Airbag Safety – What Do You Really Know?

Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP July 17, 2015

Vehicle airbags save lives during car and truck accidents; however, it is also true that airbags can cause injury in some circumstances. Auto accident lawyers who deal with cases involving vehicle occupants injured by airbags have been asked if these devices really are helpful or not. Injury attorneys and safety organizations report that airbags are very safe when used correctly; however, improper use can unfortunately put many people in danger.

Airbags – A Background

When airbags were first used, they were not as well designed as current versions. They consisted of bags in the front only, which left passengers unprotected and subject to injury. As technology improved, airbags became less hazardous when deployed and saved countless lives. There are now front collision airbags, side collision airbags, side curtain airbags, and adaptive airbags that deploy only under certain conditions. All of this updated technology has drastically increased safety in vehicles where they are used. Yet it is true that the most important factor involved in preventing passenger injuries from airbags is proper use.

Some Airbag Information

Airbags deploy at speeds as high as 200 mph and within less than a second after a crash happens.1 In 2012, airbags saved 2,213 lives in car collisions. Frontal airbags reduced driver deaths by 29 percent and passengers deaths by 32 percent. Side airbags with head protection reduced deaths by 37 percent in cars and 52 percent in SUV’s.2

Based on NHTSA research and collected data, while seat belts alone reduce the risk of fatality in crashes by about 45 percent, seat belts and airbags together increase that percentage to 51 percent or more.1 Despite such positive findings, improper use of both airbags and seat belts still cause injuries.

Staying Safe with Airbags

Various types of airbags can cause injury or even death when not used according to safety standards. Auto accident lawyers point out that drivers and passengers must understand how air bags work. Improper restraint of passengers, sitting too close to the airbag, or children sitting in passenger seats cause most airbag injuries as detailed below:

  • Seat Belts – Airbags provide the greatest protection when used in conjunction with seat belts to provide correct restraint. Seat belts keep drivers and passengers in proper seated positions, while airbags inflate to fill the space between occupants and vehicle doors. They provide a safe amount of support without causing injury. When not properly restrained, attorneys who handle these type of cases report that drivers and passengers may lean forward with a front-end impact, meet the deploying airbag head on, and be injured in the process.

  • Driver Air Bags – Similarly, drivers should sit no closer to the steering wheel than necessary and should be properly restrained by a seat belt. If possible, the steering wheel should be no closer than 10 inches from the front of a driver’s body to allow for deployment without injury.

  • Children and Airbags – Children younger than 12 years of age should not sit in a front passenger seat because airbags can cause injury if shoulder harness belts do not fit properly. Rearward-facing child seats should never be used in a front seat with airbags present. If possible, passenger airbags should be turned off when a child must ride in a front seat. Newer airbag technology includes adaptive airbags which sense the passenger seat occupant’s weight and disengage when a child is seated.

Auto accident lawyers stress that vehicle owners must know the type of airbags in their cars and the precautions necessary for their safe use. This knowledge can offer the greatest protection and least risk of injury to drivers and passengers when airbags are deployed. In addition, seat belts must be used properly, sitting the proper distance from frontal airbags must be observed, and children under 12 years of age should not sit in front seats. Injury lawyers have observed from the many cases they handle that airbags save lives when used as directed – an important fact for every vehicle driver to know.

1Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Highway Loss Data Institute – Questions and Answers, Airbags, 2015

2National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Report DOT HS-812-069, 2015