Airbags deploy in serious car accidents to protect drivers and passengers. The best way to be protected in a car crash is to wear a seatbelt, which works with frontal and side airbags to best protect you. More than 50,400 lives have been saved by frontal airbags from 1987 to 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
If you were injured in a Massachusetts car accident with deployed airbags, 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.
When Do Airbags Deploy?
Frontal and side-impact airbags are specifically designed to deploy in moderate to severe car crashes, but they may also deploy in minor car crashes.
A “moderate to severe” car crash is defined as a car crash involving an impact equivalent to hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8 to 14 mph or faster. For example, this would be equivalent to striking a parked car a similar size to the vehicle you are driving at about 16 to 28 miles per hour or faster. For certain side-impact car crashes, a collision at as low as 8 miles per hour can result in the side airbags deploying. Front airbags may also be deployed to help protect people from side impacts.
When a moderate to severe crash happens:
- The airbag system’s electronic control unit sends a signal to an inflator in the airbag compartment.
- The inflator has an igniter that starts a chemical reaction.
- The chemical reaction produces a harmless gas that inflates the airbag in less than 1/20 of a second.
If your car senses that you are not wearing a seatbelt, then front airbags may deploy when the crash has a lesser impact. For some crashes, based on the impact, seatbelts are deemed to provide adequate protection.
What Kinds of Airbags Are There?
Now, vehicles are required to have frontal airbags. Many cars, however, are equipped with both front and side airbags.
Frontal airbags have been standard and required equipment in all passenger vehicles since the late 1990s. Side airbags are not required but are usually offered as standard or optional safety equipment in most new passenger vehicles.
Side Airbags are designed to inflate in side crashes to protect the driver’s and passenger’s heads and chests from hitting the inside of the car and any objects outside the vehicle that could come through the car or window.
Side airbags work as a cushion to spread the impact load of the crash to prevent someone’s body from experiencing a sustained and concentrated impact force.
Side airbags are not explicitly required; however, there is a federal regulation on side-impact protection, which involves a certain amount of head and torso protection for all occupants in a vehicle, and the required protection is generally achieved by cars having side airbags. Because side airbags meet this safety requirement, the vast majority of vehicles from model year 2014 (when the federal safety regulation became effective) or more recent models, come with side airbags.
Some vehicle manufacturers also provide additional supplemental airbags. These can include knee airbags, inflatable seatbelts, seat- or door-mounted airbags, sunroof airbags, and even pedestrian airbag modules.
How do Airbags Work?
Airbags are designed to be supplemental protection and to work as a safety feature in addition to wearing a seatbelt properly. Airbags are designed to work with your seatbelts and not to replace the need for wearing a seatbelt.
One of the main benefits of airbags is that they reduce the risk of your head or upper body colliding with the hard interior of your vehicle.
For an airbag to be activated during a car crash, it depends on several important factors such as:
- The speed of the car crash
- The other vehicles involved
- The direction of impact
- The individual vehicle’s airbag system design strategy
- The crash sensor locations in the car
Airbags are not designed to deploy in all crashes but will deploy if certain conditions are met, or crash sensors are triggered.
What Happens When Airbags Deploy
When frontal airbags deploy, it is because a signal was sent to the inflator unit in the airbag’s control unit. Once a sensor detects a collision, an igniter starts a rapid chemical reaction that generates gas that fills the airbag. This gas inflation makes the airbag deploy through the cover it is under (such as from the steering wheel or the dash). The gas generators also contain propellant to help the airbag deploy.
When an airbag goes off, the deployment is also frequently accompanied by the release of dust-like particles and gasses into the car. Once the airbag deploys, it immediately begins to deflate and cool off.
How Fast Do Airbags Deploy?
Airbags deploy within 1/20 of a second. This is extremely fast, with airbags deploying at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. The speed of an airbag deploying is critical to saving lives in many circumstances. The entire process of deploying an airbag is about 6x faster than it takes someone to blink. Very soon after an airbag deploys, it will deflate.
The speed of deployment can cause injuries. Because of how fast airbags deploy, serious injuries (sometimes even fatal) from airbags can happen if a driver or a passenger is too close to the airbag when it first deploys.
The speed and impact of a deploying airbag is why it is important to sit as far back from the steering wheel or dashboard as possible to create more space between people and the frontal airbags.
Side airbags inflate even more quickly than frontal airbags because there is less space between the driver or passenger and the side of the car. Side airbags prevent you from smashing into the car, broken windows, or objects outside the car, such as another car, a pole, or a tree.
Side impact airbags deploy within the first 10-20 milliseconds of a side crash. For a narrow object crash, such as a collision with a tree or pole, the side airbag deployment threshold can be as low as 8 miles per hour. For a more widely distributed side-impact crash, such as a car colliding with the side of your vehicle, the deployment threshold for side airbags will be about 18 miles per hour. Side airbags can also be deployed in certain types of frontal car crashes.
Why Do Airbags Not Work Sometimes?
Airbags fail to deploy during car crashes for a few common reasons. Some possible reasons why airbags will not go off in a car crash include:
- Crash conditions are mild or moderate, so an airbag is unnecessary to protect a driver or passenger if seatbelts are in use. The car may sense that people are wearing seatbelts and that a seatbelt should provide enough protection based on the crash input.
- A frontal passenger airbag might not go off when the vehicle senses a small-stature passenger or child, a car seat, or no occupant in the front passenger seat.
- Some advanced side airbag systems will similarly turn off the passenger side airbags if the car senses a smaller person or a child in the front seat who may be too close to the side airbag.
- If you have a used vehicle, the car may have been involved in a previous crash, and it is possible the airbags were never replaced. If airbags are ever deployed in a car crash, the airbags must always be replaced.
If you are ever involved in a car crash with injuries, and an airbag failed to deploy, you should report the incident to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation. NHTSA will investigate possible defects and potential recalls.
What Kind of Impact Do Airbags Have?
Airbags can deploy at speeds up to 200 mph, making a very forceful impact. It’s estimated that the impact of a deployed airbag is about 2,000 pounds of force.
This 2,000 pounds of impact force is why your face, chest, or other body parts can experience serious injuries if you are too close to the steering wheel or dash when the airbag deploys. Serious injuries could include fractures, broken bones, and other internal injuries.
How close a person is to the airbag when a collision happens can significantly impact a person’s vulnerability to being injured by the airbag deployment. The closer someone is to the airbag when it deploys, the more likely the airbag's impact will hurt them. When airbags deploy, they expand to about 12 to 18 inches from where they deploy.
What Kind of Damages Do Airbags Cause to Cars?
It is important for you to know that airbags can only be deployed one time. Because they only deploy once, you must replace your airbags immediately after a crash. Bring your car to an authorized repair center and replace them before you drive it again.
Airbag deployment alone will not necessarily total your car. But, sometimes, airbag deployment itself can total your car due to extensive damage caused by the airbag inflating which can make your vehicle irreparable. Your car would be considered totaled if the cost of repairing it would cost more than its market value.
Repairing airbags is not cheap. Replacing airbags after an accident can cost between $1,000 to $6,000. If you were involved in a Massachusetts car accident with deployed airbags, your car also likely sustained some other significant damages. Your car insurance will typically cover the cost of replacing airbags if your vehicle is not totaled and if you have collision insurance.
Contact a Car Accident and Airbag Injury Attorney for a FREE Consultation if You Were Injured in a Boston or 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.
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.