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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

Why Airbags Don't Always Work as Expected

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Many drivers and passengers feel more secure in automobiles today thanks to airbags. But what if an airbag does not deploy in the event of a serious accident? A woman tells of an accident in which her driver and rear-passenger doors were crushed; the care was declared total. Not one of the six airbags deployed and she wants to know why. Does it mean the airbags failed? Not necessarily. The fact that an airbag does not deploy does not mean that it is defective. Additionally, speed and the force of impact doesn’t always determine when the airbags will deploy. A thorough investigation and analysis of the crash is required to determine the cause(s) and whether an airbag is defective.

Although serious airbag injuries are rare, they can occur when someone is too close or directly in contact with an air bag when it deploys. In 1999, airbags standards were changed because sometimes deployment caused serious injury or death that may not have occurred had the airbag not inflated. This was especially true with children and small adults as they were closest to the airbag. As a result, automobiles now have sensors that analyze different types of data during a crash and make a split second decision about whether to deploy the vehicle’s airbags. Some sensors are located outside the car and react to an object striking the vehicle. Some are located inside the car and measure the size and weight of the occupants.

"Because air bag sensors measure deceleration, vehicle speed and damage are not good indicators of whether or not an air bag should have deployed," NHTSA said on its website. In his most recent article, “Why Airbags Don’t Always Work As We Expect,” Maine auto accident attorney, Stephen Wade focuses on front airbags and the main injury concern that arises from their failure to deploy before a driver’s face hits the steering wheel in an accident: The late deployment results in no cushioning from the crash and ultimately produces two impacts – the first from the vehicle being struck, and the second from the airbag exploding.

Wade says that some of the reasons why airbags may fail to deploy as expected include:

  • Airbags are designed to deploy only after a threshold impact occurs. In a car that runs off the road through small trees, the bag may not deploy as it would if the car struck a concrete bridge abutment at 40 mph.
  • If the accident occurs at an angle, there may not be a sufficient change of speed in the car’s forward direction to trigger the airbag.
  • If a minor impact is followed too close in time by a large impact, the airbag may not deploy on time for the larger impact.

Airbags may not always work as we expect. However, they are designed to minimize the risk of serious injury. When they do not deploy as they should it may be by design or defect. Now many auto manufacturers are adding a “black box” that will record accident data. Only a detailed analysis of the data from the black box and the accident itself will answer that question.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.