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Vehicle Air Bags: Friend Or Foe?

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For years, the automobile manufacturers of the world have touted air bags as soft pillows that will greatly reduce injuries and deaths on our nation’s highways. While it is true that air bags have reduced deaths and injuries, these achievements have come at a high cost. Due to the manufacturer’s decision to rush air bags into our cars when first required by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 1994, these manufacturers installed dangerously defective air bags into many of the vehicles on the road today. In particular, these air bags are extremely dangerous to children and small adults who happen to be sitting in front of them when they deploy.

In theory, an air bag is supposed to be fully inflated before the passenger contacts it during a crash. Serious injuries occur when air bags, which can travel at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, hit occupants prior to full inflation. Some air bags push out of their storage compartments with such great force that they can throw a child into the rear seat of a car. Air bags have also been known to deploy late in low-speed accidents, permitting front-seat occupants to move into the zone of deployment before the bag fully deploys, thereby resulting in very serious injuries or death. In addition, poorly designed crash-sensor placement can result in the air bag failing to deploy at all.

Air-bag manufacturers have themselves to blame for the potential hazards of air bags. Typically, manufacturers have been content to install an air bag if it met the minimum government regulation, known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. The standard required that manufacturers certified that their air bags would not inflict injuries to a crash dummy that was 5 foot 9 inch inches tall upon a collision with a fixed object at the rate of 30 miles per hour. The problem with this approach has been that it does not address air-bag performance in individuals who are small, short, or very large. Accordingly, these groups of automobile passengers are at greater risk for air-bag-deployment injuries.

It is important that you always wear your seat belt while operating a motor vehicle equipped with an air bag (and ones that are not so equipped, for that matter). It is also important that children and other smaller individuals ride in the back seat of an automobile when possible. Finally, if you or a family member is injured by an air-bag deployment or by the failure of your air bag to deploy, you must preserve the automobile and the air-bag system so that it can be properly evaluated and tested by a qualified expert witness.