While it is possible for airbags to kill you, it is a myth that airbags cause more deaths and injuries than the lives they save and injuries they prevent.
Airbags are designed to keep drivers and all car passengers safe. Overall, they save lives and reduce and limit injuries. Airbags protect from far more dangers than dangers they present. The life-saving and injury-preventing aspects of airbags are why all new vehicles have been required to have front airbags since the 1999 vehicle model year. Side and other airbags are not required in the same way, but most car manufacturers also offer side airbags as standard or optional equipment on new passenger vehicle models. Some cars even have sunroof airbags.
Most often, airbag injuries or deaths are caused by airbag malfunctions, drivers or passengers sitting too close to the steering wheel or dash, and drivers or passengers not wearing a seatbelt. Airbags offer the most protection when people are wearing seatbelts properly.
If you were injured in a Massachusetts car accident with deployed airbags, or if a loved one was killed in a fatal car accident, call or text our office for a free consultation at (617) 889-5000. We will review your case for free, explain your legal options, give you advice, and explain how we can help you recover compensation for your medical bills and injuries.
How Often Do Airbags Kill People?
Thankfully, serious injuries and fatalities from airbags are rare. Sometimes, the energy used to rapidly inflate an airbag in a crash can injure someone sitting too close to the airbag before it deploys or someone who is thrown too close to an airbag in the accident. This was primarily a concern in the first generation of frontal airbags, as they deployed with a greater force than frontal airbags in newer vehicles do now.
It’s estimated that deployed frontal airbags caused around 300 deaths in low-speed crashes from 1990-2008, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report. Almost 90% of these deaths took place in cars manufactured before 1998. Most deaths were of passengers, specifically children and infants.
Federal airbag safety rules now encourage front airbags to have reduced energy when deployed. This began in 1998 models of vehicles. Then, in 2007, the NHTSA issued a certified advance airbag rule that required all passenger vehicles to have more sophisticated airbags by the 2007 vehicle model year. This advanced model changes airbag deployment patterns. For example, weight sensors better detect a smaller driver, a front-seat passenger, or a child safety seat.
Not Wearing a Seatbelt Increases Chance of Being Killed by an Airbag
Of the deaths caused by frontal airbags, more than 80% of the fatalities involved people who were not wearing a seatbelt or who were not wearing a seatbelt properly.
Children and infants are particularly vulnerable to airbag fatalities if they are not wearing seatbelts correctly. Most deaths of passengers who were not wearing seatbelts were children. Infants in rear-facing car seats were also especially vulnerable because their heads were too close to the deploying airbag. This is one of many reasons why you should never place an infant or child in a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle unless absolutely necessary.
Sitting Too Close to The Steering Wheel Increases Chance of Being Killed by an Airbag
Sitting too close to the steering wheel increases the chance of a fatal accident for drivers in car crashes with deployed airbags. This is especially true for short and elderly drivers, as they tend to sit closer to the steering wheel, making them more vulnerable to injuries from inflating frontal airbags.
Sitting too close to the steering wheel, or even too close to the dashboard if you're a passenger, means you’re getting hit with a higher impact from the airbag. Airbags deploy very quickly – in about 1/20 of a second, which can be as fast as up to 200 miles per hour. Most times, this quick inflation and deployment is life-saving and injury-preventing, but it can also cause serious injuries.
Quickly deploying airbags can have up to 2,000 pounds of force, so sitting closer to an airbag can make a driver and passenger much more susceptible to injury from a deployed airbag. Based on their position and how fast airbags deploy, common injuries from airbags include injuries to the face, neck, back, chest, and abrasions, burns, muscle injuries, soft tissue injuries, fractures, and broken bones.
Faulty or Malfunctioning Airbags Increase Chance of Being Killed in a Car Crash
While airbags can sometimes cause injuries or deaths when they operate correctly, faulty airbags are more likely to result in severe injury or death in a car crash.
Once faulty airbags are discovered, the US Government will issue recalls for cars with faulty airbag systems that increase the risk of injury or death in a car crash.
Faulty airbags include:
- Airbags that don’t deploy
- Airbags that deploy at the wrong time
- Airbags that deploy at the wrong energy level (they could deploy with too much or too little energy)
- Airbags that have defective parts
If you have a car model with recalled airbags, you should replace your airbags to ensure that you (as a driver) and your passengers are as safe as can be and have the best level of protection if you ever are in a Massachusetts car crash. Having proper airbags could prevent a fatal car accident in Massachusetts.
Recalled Airbags: How To Find Information and Increase Safety
Check out the NHTSA recall database to find information on recalled airbags and whether your vehicle is affected.
On the website, you can enter your vehicle’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to find out if your specific car needs any repairs – including airbag systems – as part of a recall. The database will be able to tell you if your vehicle is affected by a recall issued in the past 15 years and has not been repaired yet.
You can also sign up to get general recall alerts via email or download NHTSA’s free SaferCar app to get alerts on your phone about your specific vehicles.
The Takata Airbag recall began in 2015 and has affected tens of millions of vehicles. This is the largest airbag recall in US history. An estimated 67 Million vehicles were recalled by 2022, and about 11 Million of those vehicles still need to have the airbags replaced. The recall issue, involving an exploding inflator, led to more than 250 reported deaths and at least 23 confirmed deaths in the U.S. At least 12 of the deaths involved Honda vehicles. The issue is that the airbags themselves will explode when they deploy.
The NHTSA’s recall database also has information on authorized service centers where you can get your recalled vehicle repaired for free.
How Airbags Work to Save Lives in Massachusetts Car Accidents
For over 30 years, frontal airbags alone have saved more than 50,000 lives, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In recent years, NHTSA estimates that side airbags have saved more than 2,250 lives.
When a car is in a car crash with frontal impact, the frontal airbags have been shown to reduce driver deaths by 29% and front-seat passenger deaths by about 32%. Side airbags also reduce deaths from side crashes, with a reported 37% decrease in driver deaths from side-impact car crashes when the vehicle has side airbags that protect the driver’s head. The side airbags can reduce deaths by over 50% for SUV drivers. Injuries are generally less common from side airbags than from frontal airbags.
How Do Airbags Work in Car Accidents?
Airbags are inflatable cushions built into cars that deploy in accidents to protect drivers and passengers from hitting the inside of the vehicle and objects outside of the vehicle (such as another car or a tree) during a car crash.
Airbags have sensors that measure how severe the crash's impact is the moment a crash begins. If the collision is severe enough, the airbag sensors will signal the airbags to inflate and deploy. If you ever are involved in a car crash with airbags deployed, you will need to replace all your airbags before you drive your car again. Make sure to service your vehicle at a repair shop that uses replacement parts from your original equipment manufacturer for your car model.
How Do Front Airbags Work in Car Accidents?
Front airbags are made to inflate in car crashes with moderate-to-severe front impact. The goal of a frontal airbag is to prevent a person’s head and chest from hitting a hard structure in the vehicle. Newer airbags have a safety belt sensor that determines whether to deploy airbags based on whether someone is wearing a seatbelt.
How Do Side Airbags Work in Car Accidents?
Side airbags are primarily designed to protect drivers and passengers from head and chest injuries. They inflate in side crashes to prevent people’s heads from hitting hard parts inside the car and objects outside the car that could come through windows, including parts of other cars, trees, or poles.
Side airbags create a cushion and spread the impact load to prevent any part of someone’s body from suffering from a sustained and concentrated impact force. Side airbags that protect your head are especially important as they can be the only thing between a person's head and another vehicle in a crash with shattered window glass.
How To Prevent Airbag Deaths and Injuries in Car Accidents?
You can do several things to prevent airbag-related injuries and deaths in a car accident.
Some of the most effective things you can do include:
- Always wear a seatbelt, and always make sure all of your passengers are wearing seatbelts before you begin to move the car.
- Do not sit too close to the steering wheel or the dashboard. Keep at least 10 inches between you and the steering wheel and the dashboard.
- Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle.
- Use the appropriate car seats and booster seats for younger children. Ensure the car seats are correctly installed and the child is properly buckled in every ride.
- Have children 12 years old and younger sit in the car's back seat.
What To Do If a Loved One Was Killed by an Airbag Deployed in a Massachusetts Car Crash
If you lost a loved one in a fatal car crash, we are sorry. After a devastating accident causes the death of a loved one, Spada Law can work to bring justice by holding the responsible party accountable for the wrongful death. A wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts allows family members or loved ones to seek justice and recover financial compensation after the accident.
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit, and it can be filed regardless of whether there is also a criminal case regarding the same fatal accident.
Spada Law Group understands this is a difficult time for you and your family, and you have our sympathies for your loss. Please contact us by phone or text to find out how we can serve you in this time of need.
Contact a Car Accident and Airbag Injury Attorney for a FREE Consultation if You Were Injured in a Massachusetts Crash
Car accidents are always terrifying and can result in serious injuries — especially if you were injured in a car crash with deployed airbags. Being injured in a car crash is hard enough. You have doctor’s visits, possible surgeries, and physical therapy to manage so you can heal.
But navigating the legal process and dealing with insurance companies doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful.
If you or a loved one were injured in a Massachusetts car crash, you have rights and may be able to get compensation for your medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and more. Our car accident attorneys are here to guide you every step of the way. We can also represent you if you lost a loved one due to a fatal airbag injury or a fatal car accident.
Over the last three decades, we’ve helped thousands of people in Massachusetts get the recovery they need after a car accident injury. Recently, Boston Magazine named Attorney Spada one of Boston’s Top Personal Injury Lawyers. As personal injury lawyers, you never pay us a penny until we win your case. We’re here and ready to help.
We have three offices but proudly serve the entire state with the ability to meet with you remotely from the comfort of your own home. Contact us for a free consultation so we can learn more about your accident and injuries and see how we can help you get the recovery you deserve after your situation occurs.