The Evolution of Airbag Technology: Are Modern Airbags Safer?

Airbag technology has come a long way over the past 70 years. Today’s airbags are far safer than the first ones developed in the 1950s, and with many modern vehicles having 10 or more airbags installed throughout the cabin, airbags are now responsible for saving thousands of lives each year. Even so, airbag technology is still far from perfect, and many accident victims will find themselves needing to speak with an airbag injury lawyer about filing a lawsuit to recover their losses.

The History of Vehicle Airbags in the United States

The first airbag was invented in 1952. Reportedly, the inventor, John W. Hetrick, had the idea for an airbag after being involved in a serious collision. He obtained a patent for his invention and subsequently began pitching it to automakers. Unfortunately, none of them were interested.

Part of the issue was that, while Hetrick had invented the airbag, he hadn’t invented a way for it to deploy in the event of a crash. Additional technology was needed. This technology wouldn’t be developed for another 16 years. In 1968, engineer Allen Breed developed the world’s first crash-sensing technology.

Three years later, in 1971, Ford installed the first experimental airbags in a fleet of its cars. Then, in 1973, General Motors sold the first airbag-equipped vehicles to the federal government, and the 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado became the first airbag-equipped vehicle to be offered to the general public. However, General Motors subsequently stopped offering vehicles with this “feature,” as there reportedly wasn’t enough interest among buyers.

But, the technology slowly gained traction, and by the 1990s most vehicles sold in the United States came equipped with frontal impact airbags as standard. The first gas-inflated airbag was invented in 1994, and then in 1998, Congress passed a federal law mandating frontal impact airbags for all new vehicles. Since then, manufacturers have continued to innovate, and while side impact airbags still aren’t legally required in the U.S., most modern vehicles sold in the U.S. now have multiple airbags protecting the driver and passengers throughout the cabin.

How Safe Are Modern Airbags?

So, how safe are modern airbags? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they are pretty safe. As the NHTSA explains:

“Airbags have come a long way since the first one was invented in the 1950s. Though early airbags saved lives, they had to be re-engineered so the airbag itself did not injure or kill someone when it deployed, especially women and children. Airbag placement in vehicles has also changed to protect occupants better.”

Here are some more notable facts and figures on airbag safety from the NHTSA and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):

  • The NHTSA estimates that airbags saved more than 50,000 lives over the 30-year period from 1987 to 2017. This equates to more than 1,500 lives saved per year. More recent numbers are likely significantly higher, as airbags weren’t nearly as effective in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they are today.
  • According to the IIHS, “[f]ront airbags reduce driver fatalities in frontal crashes by 29% and fatalities of front-seat passengers age 13 and older by 32%,” and “[s]ide airbags that protect the head reduce a car driver’s risk of death in driver-side crashes by 37% and an SUV driver’s risk by 52%.”
  • The IIHS also reports that since the beginning of its side crash safety testing program in 2003, “all the vehicles earning good ratings have been equipped with side airbags that protect the head.”

Despite the safety benefits that modern airbags offer, they also present certain risks. Airbag injuries are common, and they can result from a variety of different issues. For example, the NHTSA advises that “[t]o avoid an airbag-related injury, make sure you are properly seated and remember—airbags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them. And children under 13 should sit in the back seat.” But, even if you are wearing your seatbelt and sitting far enough back from the steering wheel or dashboard, you can still suffer an injury due to an airbag defect.

Currently, airbag defects are a major concern. One major airbag manufacturer (Takata) has recalled tens of millions of airbags, and another (ARC) is subject to a pending NHTSA investigation that also has the potential to result in millions of airbag-related recalls. With many of these vehicles still on the road, many people are at risk of suffering serious injuries, and many have already been forced to seek just compensation with the help of an experienced airbag injury lawyer.

What Are Your Rights if You Suffer an Airbag Injury?

If you suffer an airbag injury, hiring a lawyer is a crucial next step after getting treatment. Victims of airbag injuries have clear legal rights, and airbag and vehicle manufacturers can be held liable in many cases. Despite their efforts to improve airbag safety over the years, these companies still have a lot of work to do, and they can—and should—be held accountable for selling airbags that pose risks for serious or fatal injuries. An experienced airbag injury lawyer can help you assert your legal rights and can do so at no out-of-pocket cost to you.

So, are modern airbags safer? The short answer is “Yes.” But, although they may be safer, they are not completely safe. While even non-defective airbags can cause injuries, the tens of millions of defective airbags on U.S. roads today present even greater risks for drivers and their passengers.

Talk to an Airbag Injury Lawyer About Filing a Lawsuit for Free

Do you need to know more about filing a claim for an airbag-related injury? If so, we can help. When you schedule a free consultation at our firm, an experienced airbag injury lawyer will walk you through everything you need to know. To schedule an appointment today, please give us a call or tell us how we can reach you online now.