Airbags are safety devices which are designed to help prevent personal injuries during a car accident, but in rare cases, these devices can actually cause injuries in a collision. Airbags work by inflating quickly in an impact, which creates a cushion for the driver’s head or passenger’s head. The head of the driver or passenger hits the soft surface of the inflated airbag instead of the dashboard, reducing the risk of brain injuries.
Unfortunately, airbags must inflate very quickly in order to be effective. In rare cases, the force with which airbags inflate can cause injuries. In rarer cases, airbag defects can cause more serious injuries. In most cases, these injuries are simply abrasions or small cuts. However, the NHTSA reports that over 260 people have died since 1990 due to airbag injuries. This number is very small when compared to the number of fatalities caused by car accidents and other types of accidents. However, it is worth noting that many of these deaths were preventable.
According to the NHTSA, passengers accounted for about 65% of airbag-related deaths in car accidents. Over 90% of these passenger deaths involved infants and children. Most of these child passengers were incorrectly positioned in the vehicle, either without safety restraints or in rear-facing restraints. When the airbags deployed in an accident, these children had their heads right at the level of the airbag, so that the airbag slammed into their heads while inflating, causing fatal injuries. According to the NHTSA data, about 75% of victims were female and over 80% of those who died were not correctly restrained with safety belts. Older vehicles seem to have a higher rate of airbag-related injuries, too – over 90% of airbag-related deaths occurred in vehicles made before 1998.
These statistics point again to the importance of correctly positioning children in a vehicle. Car accidents are still a major cause of injuries to minors and children, and these injuries can be further prevented with correct use of safety restraints. In all vehicles, the safest place for young children to be is the back seat. Younger children should be placed in an age-appropriate child seat. Older children should be buckled in with a seat belt. In a car accident, these simple precautions can save a child’s life.
Manufacturers are taking the initiative in reducing airbag-related deaths as well. Newer airbag designs make airbags inflate with less force, which may reduce injuries and deaths associated with these devices. As well, the federal government created new guidelines in 1997 to ensure that frontal airbags inflate with lower power levels. Studies have shown that newer airbags are far less likely to cause injuries when compared to airbags made before 1998. Consumers with older vehicles may want to check their airbags and get them checked by a qualified mechanic. Look for any recalls on the airbags or consider getting the airbags replaced with a newer and safer design.
Most airbag-related injuries which do occur involve front airbags. Side airbags are smaller and use less force when inflating. In fact, so far only one serious injury has been reported from a side-impact airbag. It is important to keep in mind when considering any vehicles that airbags are a safety feature that usually prevent serious injury. Customers should not avoid airbags entirely, as these can save lives. However, parents need to be aware of injuries that airbags can cause to children and owners of older vehicles may wish to have their airbags inspected for safety to keep injury risk to a minimum.