Automobile safety equipment, such as airbags, are supposed to save lives and prevent injuries and, for the most part, it does exactly that. But an expansion last month of the largest automotive recall in history highlights the fact that sometimes safety equipment can kill.
On July 11, the now-bankrupt Takata Corporation, added 2.7 million vehicles to its recall list covering faulty airbag injectors that can explode and spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers.
Exploding Takata inflators have been blamed for 17 deaths and more than 180 injuries.
The recall now covers 42 million vehicles to replace 69 million front and side airbag inflators, impacting dozens of models made by 19 different automakers primarily from the 2002 through 2015 model years.
Heat and Humidity Considered Factors in Defective Part
Because high heat and humidity are believed to play a role in the defective injectors, the massive recall is being prioritized by location, with hot and humid regions of the country receiving replacement service first.
While this may make sense, it may not put those of us in Maine affected by the recall at ease during our hot and humid summer months. Likewise, for those who purchased a used car covered under the recall that may have spent its earlier years down south.
Check your Vehicle
To find out if your car or truck is part of the recall, the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) “Safety Issues and Recalls” web page offers a searchable database. Just enter your vehicle’s unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the search box to find out if your vehicle needs to be repaired as part of a recall.
Overall Airbags Do Save Lives
Despite the Takata fiasco, air bags save lives and reduce the chance of serious injuries in car crashes, especially when used in conjunction with shoulder and lap seat belts.
According to some estimates, airbags have saved more than 30,000 lives in the U.S. since their introduction in the mid-1970s.
However, even absent the defective Takata models, airbags have long been connected to some deaths and injuries during automobile crashes, with a peak in airbag-related deaths believed to be in 1997, when 53 deaths were attributed to them.
The earlier fatalities were believed to be a result of several factors, such as
- strong deployment force of early airbags,
- lack of combined seat belt usage, and
- their inherent danger to children and smaller people.
The auto industry responded by ramping down the deployment force with less powerful inflators and better sensors. The industry and NHTSA also made a more concerted effort to encourage seatbelt usage, and provide more educational outreach designed to keep children away from front seat airbags.
These efforts have proven to be successful and, provided certain basic procedures are followed, airbags continue to save far more lives than might be lost to defective parts, such as Takata, or to anomalies, such as a person leaning too far forward at the time of the accident.
Air Bag Safety Recommendations
With regard to airbag safety for adults in motor vehicles, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety recommends that you:
- always use lap and shoulder safety belts
- move the front seat as far back as possible, while still being able to reach the pedals
- keep a slight recline in the seat
- tilt the steering wheel down to point the airbag more toward the chest, rather than the head
Children & Airbags Do Not Mix
The Bureau of Highway Safety explicitly states that “Children and airbags do not mix,” further noting that:
- all children under age 12 should ride in the back seat because airbags can seriously injure or kill children sitting in the front seat
- rear-facing infant safety seats should never be placed in the front seat of airbag-equipped vehicles
- if a child over one-year-old must ride in the front seat with a passenger side air bag, put the child in a front-facing child safety seat, booster seat or with a correctly fitted lap/shoulder belt, and move the seat as far back as possible
Get Help as Soon as Possible
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident and have suffered injury or property damages through no fault of your own, contact Fales & Fales, P.A. for a free consultation online, or by calling (888) 526-9408.
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Diagrams courtesy of Maine.gov.