Airbags can save lives. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has dubbed them “one of the most important safety innovations of recent decades.” Front airbags have been required in passenger vehicles since 1999 models, but side airbags are not specifically mandated. Nonetheless, many vehicles have side airbags as well. Both front and side airbags reduce the risk of fatalities by about one-third. However, they can also cause injuries. Airbag injuries can be severe, but they are more often relatively minor compared with the injuries that could have occurred if the airbag was not there. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident where the airbags went off, you may want to consult with a Tennessee car accident attorney. Call Shepherd and Long, PC at (865) 982-8060 for more information.
A Quick Overview of Airbags in Passenger Vehicles
An airbag is an inflatable cushion built directly into a vehicle. It inflates quickly to shield drivers and passengers from hitting the car’s interior or objects outside the vehicle. Sensors in the car measure the severity of the crash. If the sensor determines that the accident is one where the airbag may be helpful, it will deploy. The airbag inflators shoot gas into the airbag so that it inflates extremely quickly — within a fraction of a second.
In general, front airbags will deploy if the sensors determine the accident is “moderate to severe.” The main goal of front airbags is to protect the head of a driver or passenger. Some newer airbags will sense whether people are using safety belts and take that into consideration when determining whether the airbag should deploy. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Center for Statistics and Analysis, airbags are designed to work best when someone is properly seated and using their seatbelt.
Side airbags are designed to cushion and spread the impact of something that has hit the side of the vehicle, such as a tree or another car. By spreading out the impact, side airbags can help prevent all the force from being imposed on just one part of the body. Head airbags are particularly helpful because they provide more protection and a barrier from the object that hits the car compared with the door window alone.
Side airbags deploy even faster than front airbags, and they are more likely to deploy in even minor crashes. This is, in large part, because side-impact crashes often cause more severe injuries compared with front crashes.
Common Types of Airbag Injuries
Airbags inflate using a very fast chemical reaction — an explosion. As a result, when they quickly deploy, they come out with a great deal of force. That force can result in injuries. Some who have experienced an airbag going off in their vehicle compare it to being hit in the head or chest with a baseball bat.
Most airbag injuries occur simply because of the force of the airbag’s deployment. Common examples of injuries caused by an airbag include the following:
- Facial injuries, such as bruising and fractures.
- Chest injuries, including heart damage.
- Fabric burns on the chest, hands, arms, and face.
- Broken bones, such as wrists and ribs.
- Ear trauma, including hearing loss.
- Internal bleeding.
- Eye injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Asthma attacks or other respiratory issues caused by the chemicals used in the deployment.
Airbags can also harm a pregnant woman’s child. Front airbags are more likely to result in damage to pregnant women, and the injuries can be severe, including loss of pregnancy.
Preventing Airbag Injuries
Drivers and passengers cannot completely prevent airbag injuries. However, they can take certain steps to decrease the likelihood or severity of an injury. Below are a few suggestions from Shepherd and Long, PC.
Use Seatbelts Properly
Airbags are designed to supplement seatbelts, not replace them. As a result, drivers and passengers should still wear their seatbelts while driving or riding in a car. Lap and shoulder belts should be worn properly so that the shoulder portion is appropriately placed on the chest and not riding too high on the neck.
Put Children in the Back Seat
According to the NHTSA, children under the age of 13 should still sit in the back seat to help avoid airbag injuries. This is true even if the vehicle has “advanced” airbags.
Airbags are designed to protect adults, so having a child in the front seat can result in significant injuries. The force combined with an incorrect location of deployment can cause serious harm. Be sure that children are properly restrained in the back seat. Infants should be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat.
Sit Far Enough Back From the Steering Wheel or Dashboard
In general, the closer the driver or a passenger is to the airbag, the more likely they are to experience injuries. Research has indicated that the first 1 to 3 inches from the airbag is the most dangerous area, so sitting back at least 6 inches can decrease the potential for airbag injuries. Moving the seat back or slightly reclining the seat can help drivers and passengers get further away from the steering wheel or dashboard.
Ensure the Airbag System Is Properly Maintained
Malfunctioning airbag systems can cause severe injuries as well. Be on the lookout for airbag lights that indicate a problem with the airbag, and get it evaluated right away. Some vehicles also have recalls that relate to their airbags. Take your vehicle to a dealership for recall repairs if necessary. Be sure that whoever reviews your airbag system is qualified to do so by following manufacturer recommendations about where to have the vehicle serviced.
Get Help After an Auto Accident in Tennessee
If you have been involved in a car accident that triggered an airbag deployment, you may not only have to deal with airbag injuries but a variety of other damages and injuries as well. You do not have to go through the legal aspects of these injuries alone. Learn how Shepherd and Long, PC may be able to help by calling (865) 982-8060.