All cars, trucks, and SUVs sold in the United States must be equipped with front and side airbags. Although the safety of airbag use in vehicles has been a contested issue since the 1950s, federal legislation known as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 required the implementation of "inflatable restraints" along with seatbelt use as another method of automatic crash injury prevention.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that fatality reduction for belted drivers in head-on crashes is 52 percent with frontal airbags; and fatality reduction for belted motorists in driver-side accidents is 37 percent with side airbags with head protection. Also, SUVs equipped with side airbags with head protection reduced the risk of driver fatalities by 52 percent.
Airbags are designed to automatically inflate in the event of a sudden deceleration or impact force that would indicate a collision. Once the bag is full of air, it protects a driver and/or passenger by:
- Increasing cushioning around his neck, head, and spine.
- Decreasing the amount of force impacting a person's head by limiting the distance it can fling forward.
- Decreasing the risk that a victim will project through the window or be ejected from the car.
Without an airbag to prevent impact forces, accident victims could easily succumb to fatal injuries such as broken necks, severed spinal cords, traumatic brain injuries, or lethal lacerations.
Airbags aren't fully guaranteed to prevent collision injuries or fatalities—in fact, airbag deployment under certain conditions can even cause harm. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration estimates nearly 300 people have died as a direct result of airbags. Here's how:
- Deployment ignition. Airbags inflate as a result of an ignition within the steering wheel that produces nitrogen gas. When the vehicle’s sensor detects a collision, it sends an electrical signal to a detonator that essentially explodes, producing the nitrogen which fills the bag. In some cases, this explosion can ignite gasoline fumes or other flammable components of the vehicle, placing people at risk for serious burns.
- Talcum powder residue. For the airbag's nylon fabric to release from the steering wheel with ease, it's coated with talcum powder. When the bag deploys with great force, so does the powder. In some cases, this dust cloud resulted in someone suffering breathing problems, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues.
- Inflation force. Airbag deployment can reach speeds of up to 200 mph. If your face, chest, or any other body part is too close to the steering wheel when the bag deploys, you could experience severe fractures or internal injuries as a result.
Share Your Thoughts About Airbags
How do you feel about airbag safety compared to the risks? Should airbags be required in all vehicles? If so, should they be regulated to one universal design, or should they be made to be unique per driver or per situation, such as allowing pregnant women to be able to adjust the height of the bag or the force at which it can deploy?
Let us know your thoughts by leaving your opinions and questions in the comment section provided. You'll allow us learn more about societal opinions, and your experiences could also help our clients better understand their concerns.