Is It Ever Safer for an Airbag Not to Deploy?

Airbags are crucial safety equipment in modern vehicles. In collisions that involve significant impact, airbags can protect drivers and passengers from serious injuries—and they can even save drivers and passengers’ lives. The federal government began mandating airbags in 1998, and since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that airbags have saved tens of thousands of lives while also preventing countless serious injuries.

But is it ever safer for an airbag not to deploy?

The simple answer is “Yes.” But understanding when (and why) it is safer for an airbag not to deploy is a bit more complicated. Learn what you need to know from an experienced airbag defect lawyer:

Airbags Should Not Deploy in Certain Circumstances

While there is no question that airbags save lives and prevent serious injuries, it is also well-known that airbag deployment can be dangerous under the wrong conditions. If an airbag deploys when it shouldn’t, it can do more harm than good, and it can cause injuries that a driver or passenger would not have sustained otherwise.

So, when shouldn’t a vehicle’s airbags deploy? The NHTSA identifies three main scenarios:

1. A Crash is “Sufficiently Moderate” that the Vehicle’s Airbags Aren’t Needed

As the NHTSA explains, “crash conditions may be sufficiently moderate where an air bag would not be needed to protect an occupant” who is wearing a seatbelt. Typically, airbags are designed to deploy for belted occupants at crash speeds of 16 mph and above. Below this speed, not only is airbag deployment generally unnecessary, but the force of impact from the airbag can cause injuries that would not have otherwise been sustained.

2. A “Small-Stature Passenger” is in the Front Seat

Many modern vehicles have sensors in the front passenger seat that automatically disable a passenger’s airbags if the passenger is below a certain height or weight. If a “small-stature passenger” is riding in the front seat, the risk of serious injuries from airbag deployment can outweigh the safety benefits that airbag deployment provides.

3. A Driver Needs to Sit Close to the Steering Wheel

The NHTSA also notes that if a driver “must sit within a few inches of the airbag. . . because she or he is of extremely small stature (i.e., 4 feet 6 inches or less),” then it may be safer for the driver’s frontal airbag not to deploy. Here, too, the concern is that the force of the airbag’s deployment (in this case, combined with the driver’s close proximity to the steering wheel cover) will do more harm than good.

Weighing the Risks of Defective Airbag Deployment

In each of the three scenarios discussed above, a vehicle’s airbags should either be disabled or designed not to deploy. In these scenarios, while airbag non-deployment is not ideal, it is generally understood to be the safest option in light of the circumstances presented.

But, what if airbag deployment isn’t dangerous because of the speed of the crash or a vehicle occupant’s statute, but instead because of problems with the airbag itself?

Unfortunately, this is a very real concern.

Over the past 25 years, automakers have sold tens of millions of vehicles with defective airbags in the United States. This includes nearly all major manufacturers—from domestic manufacturers like Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge to foreign manufacturers like Honda, Mazda and BMW. While the NHTSA has said that it is okay to continue driving some of these vehicles until vehicle owners can get their defective airbags replaced, it has also issued “Do Not Drive” warnings for certain makes and models.

For drivers and passengers of these vehicles, airbag deployment can be dangerous regardless of any other circumstances involved. Defective airbags have been blamed for hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. As a result, vehicle owners who have not yet had their defective airbags replaced should do so as soon as possible (this should be free at the dealership); and, in the meantime, they should make an informed decision about whether they are comfortable driving themselves and others.

With that said, many people don’t have a choice—and millions of people in the U.S. have been driving with defective airbags for years. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing bad will happen in the future. If you need to drive a vehicle that is equipped with defective airbags, it is important to be aware of the risks involved, and you should be sure to contact an airbag defect lawyer if you are unfortunate enough to suffer airbag-related injuries in a crash.

Injury Risks Associated with Dangerous Airbag Deployment

Regardless of why it is unsafe for an airbag to deploy, a dangerous airbag deployment can cause various types of injuries. For example, some of the most common airbag-related injuries include:

  • Arm and chest injuries
  • Burns (both friction burns and chemical burns from airbag explosions)
  • Eye and facial injuries
  • Injuries from airbag shrapnel and metal fragments
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)

All of these injuries can lead to substantial economic and non-economic costs. Fortunately, they are also all injuries for which an airbag defect lawyer may be able to help you recover just compensation. When an airbag causes injuries in a crash, the automaker that installed the airbag can be held legally accountable. While state laws vary, in most states, accident victims can seek just compensation for all of their economic and non-economic losses—including medical bills, lost income, and emotional trauma, among others. With this in mind, if you or a loved one has suffered injuries caused by airbag deployment (or non-deployment), you will want to speak with an airbag defect lawyer as soon as possible.

Speak with an Airbag Defect Lawyer About Your Legal Rights for Free

Would you like to speak with an airbag defect lawyer about your legal rights? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly. To arrange a free, no-obligation consultation as soon as possible, call 866-247-2247 or tell us how we can reach you online today.