Airbag Injury Statistics
Since 1987, when the first inflatable safety feature was installed in American-made cars, airbags have saved nearly 50,000 lives in the United States. Unfortunately, the federal government and car manufacturers have recalled numerous airbags due to unexpected injuries, even when functioning correctly.
Were you severely injured in an airbag accident, or did you lose a loved one through a wrongful death caused by another's negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can ensure your family receives the financial compensation they deserve for their damages.
Contact our airbag injury lawyers today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation. All information you share with our law office remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship.
National Airbag Accident Statistics
In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that approximately 50,457 lives had been saved over the last four decades by frontal airbags. Properly functioning airbags have reduced driver deaths by 29% and the deaths of front-seat occupants older than 12 years old by 32%. Other airbag accident statistics include:
- Safety experts estimate that wearing lap and shoulder seatbelts in a car equipped with an airbag reduces the potential risk of dying in a frontal accident by 61%
- One study shows that wearing a seatbelt in a vehicle without an airbag reduces the risks of death in a frontal accident by 50%
- Approximately 34% of drivers and passengers not wearing seatbelts survive frontal auto accidents in vehicles equipped with airbags
- NHTSA estimates that side airbags on vehicle sold in the U.S. have saved more than 2,250 lives since 2012
- NHTSA 2017 data reveals 3275 people were killed in passenger cars, and 2134 people were killed in light trucks when the airbag deployed, but the occupants were not wearing seatbelts
- Data reveals that a drivers' risk of dying is reduced by 52% in SUVs and 37% in passenger vehicles equipped with side airbags providing head protection in a driver's side crash
- Estimates reveal that between 1990 and 2008, nearly 300 lives were lost due to inflated frontal airbags occurring in low-speed motor vehicle accidents
- Most driver fatalities that occurred when a front airbag inflated during a low-speed accident involved infants and children (over 90%) who were either in a rear-facing safety seat or unbelted
- Many fatalities involving children in rear-facing child safety car seats or without a seatbelt on during a low-speed crash had their head close to the deployed airbag
- Short and elderly drivers who sit close to the steering wheel are highly vulnerable to severe inflation-related injuries when front airbags deploy
- Many airbags deploy during adverse weather conditions when colliding with other cars and trucks in multiple-motor vehicle crashes
- In 1991, the NHTSA Special Crash Investigations Program confirmed the first driver airbag-related fatality and two years later confirmed the first airbag deployment-related death of a minor in a child safety seat
- Federal safety agencies encouraged car & truck makers to reduce front airbag energy beginning in 1998 models to increase occupant safety while decreasing accidental airbag-related deaths
- In 2007, a newly enacted certified advanced technology airbag rule required automakers to install highly sophisticated airbags in every passenger vehicle
In 1995, the federal government mandated that all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. would be fitted with front airbags to protect the motorist and front-seat passengers. The steering wheel is fitted with a deployable airbag in the passenger side airbag is fitted into the dashboard.
Advanced Airbag Technology
In recent years, automakers have installed side airbags that deploy automatically during a side-impact accident. Numerous side airbags are available to protect the motorist and passengers, including:
- Curtain airbags are installed in the ceiling to protect the head when deployed. Some automakers install curtain airbags in the front and rear seat and on both sides of the third-row vehicle seat in larger SUVs.
- Torso airbags are fitted on the front and rear car seat side, protecting the occupant's torso and arm.
- Front center airbags are fitted between the motorist and front row passenger seats and deployed when a collision occurs on the vehicle's opposite side.
- Seat belt airbags were first introduced by Ford Motor Company in 2011, inflating the shoulder area of the seat belt and distributing crash forces across the chest and torso.
- External side airbags reduce crash impact forces on the vehicle deploying before the collision occurs by detecting an imminent side impact
- Seat cushion airbags reduce impact forces on the motorist or passenger's abdomen and chest.
- Knee airbags are fitted under the dashboard, preventing occupants from hitting their knees against hard surfaces, including the dashboard, steering wheel, and center console. A knee airbag prevents the kneecaps from shattering during a high-speed collision hitting the front grill.
- Panoramic sunroof airbags installed by Hyundai in 2017 prevents ejecting occupants from the vehicle during a rollover at any speed
- Rear airbags are fitted near the rear window, deploying between the rear passenger seat area. Rear airbags prevent backseat occupants from colliding with one another during a crash.
Over the last four decades, nearly all automobile manufacturers have installed at least some airbags as safety equipment. However, motor vehicle manufacturers advise always wearing a seat belt when traveling to reduce the potential of severe injuries during a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Recalls Takata Airbags
Since the NHTSA began recalling malfunctioning Takata airbags, over 19 automakers have replaced front and motorist/passenger-side airbags in over 67 million vehicles, making it the "largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history." Many of the airbag models were deploying explosively, injuring and killing passengers and drivers.
One study identified the problem with the malfunctioning airbags in the metal cartridge inflator loaded with propellant wafers. In some cases, the inflator ignited unexpectedly, causing an explosive force, rupturing the inflator housing, and shooting metal shards into the passenger cabin during accidents.
By April 2021, at least 19 deaths and 400 injuries associated with malfunctioning Takata airbags were reported in the U.S. The NHTSA flagged specific models manufactured by BMW, Ford, Mazda, Honda, and Acura with a high risk of malfunctioning airbags.
These models include:
- Honda (2001 to 2003 models)
- Acura (2001 to 2003 models)
- BMW 321i and 328i (1999 models)
- Ford Ranger Pickup (2006 models)
- Mazda B-Series Pickup (2006 models)
Consumer Reports revealed that while the NHTSA recalled tens of millions of vehicles nationwide, they did not issue a stop driving order stating that "it was not possible for all replacement parts to be available right away, and some vehicles were at a much higher risk of dangerous airbag explosion than others."
Recent Deaths and Manufacturer Recalls
The NHTSA prioritized recalling vehicles that had the highest concentration of incidents involving Takata airbag inflation recalls.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released the current timeline for recalled Takata airbags that includes:
- April 21, 2021– Investigators confirmed an airbag-related death involving a 2002 Honda Accord in Lancaster County, South Carolina. The motor vehicle was equipped with the defective Takata airbag inflator. The automaker stated they had made over a hundred attempts to reach the Honda Accord's owners since 2011 by making phone calls, mailing notices, sending emails, and performing in-person canvassing.
- February 19, 2021– Ford Motor Company recalled more than 154,000 Ford Ranger light trucks, Lincoln MKX SUVs, Ford Mustangs and GT models, Mercury Milan, Ford Fusion, and Lincoln MKZs due to defective Takata airbag inflators.
- January 20, 2021– The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration denied the Ford and Mazda petition to exempt numerous models from the airbag recall, including their Ford Fusion (2006-2012), Lincoln MKX (2007-2010), Ford Edge (2007-2010), Mercury Milan (2006-2011), Ford Ranger (2007-2011), and Mazda B-Series Pickup (2007-2009).
- November 25, 2020– General Motors initiates a voluntary recall of Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac SUVs and trucks to replace defective Takata airbags. A four-year battle between NHTSA and General Motors culminated with the recall of nearly 6 million trucks and SUVs sold in the U.S. between 2007 and 2014 of numerous models, including the Chevrolet Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, Avalanche, GMC Sierra and Yukon, and the Cadillac Escalade.
- September 30, 2020– The NHTSA confirmed that a defective Takata airbag inflator, installed in a 2002 Honda Civic, ruptured months before in Mesa, Arizona. The vehicle driver sustained fatal injuries and died.
- March 29, 2019– A 2002 Honda Civic driver was killed in Buckeye, Arizona, in June 2018 when the vehicle's airbag inflator ruptured.
- January 4, 2019– Ford Motor Company recalled nearly 800,000 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles to replace the passenger-side front airbag inflators due to a manufacturing defect.
- December 12, 2018– Toyota automakers agreed to replace defective Takata airbag inflators with a non-Takata brand on some Toyota Corolla's (2003-2005), Toyota Sequoia SUVs (2003-2005), Toyota Tundra light trucks (2003-2005), and Lexis SC models (2002-2005).
- February 23, 2018– A Federal bankruptcy court in Delaware approved a plan negotiated by the Takata airbag manufacturer and its creditors to create a compensation trust fund to pay victims injured and killed by exploding airbag inflators. Approximately $137 million will ultimately be contributed to the trust fund.
Since the initial Takata airbag recalls began, the largest vehicle manufacturers worldwide have been impacted, including BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Subaru, Nissan, and Toyota.
Common Injuries Caused by Deployed Airbags
Malfunctioning airbags injure and kill adults and children. For decades, the federal government has issued recalls of vehicles with installed malfunctioning airbag systems to eliminate severe injuries and death during a crash.
Many airbags have been recalled due to various problems, including defective parts, failing to deploy when triggered, and incorrect energy or timing during airbag deployment. The most common injuries caused by a malfunctioning airbag include:
- Asthma attacks and lung irritation from the toxic chemicals released during airbag deployment
- Chest injuries
- Facial burns
- Fractures, broken bones, and soft tissue injuries from the airbag's impact
- Heart and lung damage
- Permanent eye injuries
- Permanent hearing loss and tinnitus
- Permanent scarring
- Permanent skin removal (de-gloving)
- Severe cuts and abrasions
- Trauma to the head, neck, shoulder, chest, and wrist
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Wrongful death
Most of these injuries could have been prevented had the airbag not deployed unexpectedly when no crash occurred or failed to deploy entirely. Other defects include only one airbag deploying when triggered or deploying too late.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified counterfeit airbags installed in many makes and models, accounting for about 0.1% of all vehicles in the U.S. Data shows counterfeit airbags consistently malfunction, including non-deployment and unexpected non-triggered explosions shooting metal shrapnel at occupants.
Many of these fake airbags replaced existing airbags when the vehicle was under repair. The NHTSA states that the responsibility for replacing a counterfeit airbag will depend on various circumstances and what businesses were involved in replacing the manufacturer's installed safety equipment.
Seat Belt and Airbag FAQs
Were you in a crash where the airbag deployed unexpectedly or malfunctioned? Were you immediately covered by a warm sodium azide powder generating a nitrogen gas propellant to inflate the airbag?
Our legal team understands that many families have unanswered questions involving seatbelt and airbag use, especially when the device is unstable. Our legal team has answered the most frequently asked questions concerning airbags to help the public better understand the dangers of their vehicle's safety equipment.
Do Airbags Cause Death?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recorded over 235 deaths associated with malfunctioning airbags between 1990 and 2002. Many of these crash-related deaths occurred during a low-speed accident.
One analysis at the University of Georgia contradicts earlier studies about airbag safety benefits on drivers and passengers except those not wearing seat belts when the low-speed accident occurred.
How Much Do Airbags Reduce Injury?
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report identified using an airbag along with a shoulder & lap seatbelt can reduce the potential risk of death by 61% in frontal traffic crashes. This number is significantly higher than the reduction of deaths when just wearing a seatbelt (50%) or not wearing a seatbelt (34%).
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 29% of driver fatalities have been reduced in frontal traffic crashes in vehicles installed with front airbags, and 32% of fatalities have been reduced with passengers over 12 years old.
How Much Force Does an Airbag Produce?
According to Car and Driver, airbags produce a maximum pressure of under 5 pounds per square inch during a crash event. Most advanced airbags are manufactured with multistage actions that adjust the inflation speed and pressure based on the occupant's size and need for protection.
The airbag uses sensors that identify the occupant's position and mass and determine if the seat occupants are children using restraint systems, booster seats, or seatbelts. The explosive energy is generated by a chemical reaction that creates a force exerted on the airbag's front face during acceleration.
What are the Negative Effects of Airbags?
When an airbag is triggered, the safety equipment releases toxic chemicals into the air that can produce lung irritation and an asthma attack. The airbag's blunt force deployed for a brief second could cause catastrophic injuries, including broken bones, permanent facial scarring, hearing loss, eyesight damage, permanent or temporary blindness, internal organ damage, neck and back injuries, traumatic head injury, and spinal cord damage.
The fatality rate for airbag and seatbelt use in motor vehicle crashes has dropped significantly over recent decades as federal safety agencies encouraged automakers to install more advanced airbags in the steering wheel and side airbag for the driver and passengers.
At What Speed Should an Airbag Deploy?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, airbag deployment thresholds during a crash involving unbelted drivers or passengers is equivalent to impacting a rigid wall at 10 mph. Airbags are designed to deploy at higher thresholds (approximately 60 mph) for any belted driver or passenger to ensure adequate protection is provided during a crash at moderate speed limits.
Some airbag safety devices have malfunctioned and unexpectedly deployed over the last few decades during low-speed accidents, killing children and toddlers restrained in child safety seats.
Can I Sue a Car Company If My Airbags Did Not Deploy?
Many people suffering harm and those killed through a wrongful death by a malfunctioning airbag have filed civil lawsuits against automakers for decades. Successfully resolving an airbag accident case requires proving that the airbag was not deployed as designed, is defective, or unexpectedly exploded without a trigger.
A Delaware federal bankruptcy court recently approved a compensation trust fund negotiated by the Takata airbag manufacturer and its creditors to pay victims injured or killed by exploding airbag inflators. The fund contains at least $137 million that will be used to settle negotiated agreements and jury trial awards for victims and surviving family members.
Don't Be a Statistic. Hire an Airbag Injury Accident Attorney to Handle Your Compensation Case
Did you suffer an airbag injury or lose a loved one through a wrongful death caused by another's negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can serve as your legal advocates to ensure you receive the financial compensation you deserve.
Contact us today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or through the contact form to schedule a free case evaluation. Our investigative experts can determine if your airbag malfunctioned, leading to your injuries or the death of your loved one.
Potential defendants in a product liability lawsuit involving a malfunctioning airbag could include the automaker, the airbag manufacturer, and any maintenance repair shop that inspected, maintained, or replaced the airbag after the original motor vehicle dealership purchase.
We understand that not all families have sufficient funds to hire an attorney to seek compensation from the automaker or auto insurance company. We accept all cases through contingency fee agreements, meaning no upfront payment is required until we successfully resolve your case through a negotiated settlement or jury trial award.
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