It’s estimated that airbags have saved over 50,400 lives in car accidents throughout the country. That’s enough to fill half of Texas Memorial Stadium.

While that makes the 1998 government decision to require driver’s side airbags in all new vehicles seem genius, there are times when airbags fail to provide their intended shield of safety.

How Do Airbags Help?

When an airbag deploys, it’s the result of chemistry and physics.

As soon as your vehicle hits something hard enough, a sensor is triggered that generates a harmless nitrogen gas that then quickly fills the nylon bag itself and deploys at speeds of 100-200 miles per hour. Routine braking is not enough to activate this reaction.

While the gas surges to inflate the bag, it breaks the plastic cover of your steering wheel.

Because your body is moving forward from the impact, you’re pushed into the airbag. Then, the airbag begins its deflation with the gas exiting through small holes around the edge.

All of this happens in milliseconds.

Why Do Airbags Deflate So Quickly?

The quick deflation is by design and is necessary to prevent you from being thrown back hard against your seat.

When airbags deploy, people in cars often notice a bit of “smoke.” It’s not smoke, though. It’s cornstarch or talc that’s used to prevent the insides of the bag from sticking together. The majority of newer airbags, though, are coated with silicone so there’s not much of a need for the cornstarch or talc these days.

If there were no airbags in your car, you’d be forced into the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. That’s why an airbag stretches over a large part of your body to shield you from such a collision.

Where Are Airbags Located?

Airbags can be strategically placed in a host of different places in your vehicle. While initially installed in the steering wheel only, many manufacturers now place them throughout their vehicles, including:

  • Along the dashboard
  • The lower parts of the dashboard to protect your knees
  • In the vehicle doors to protect you in possible rollover situations
  • In the roof of your vehicle to protect your head
  • From the seatbelt to guard your torso.

It’s normal for some of the newer vehicles to have as many as nine airbags.

Do Airbags Malfunction?

Unfortunately, yes. Whether they fail to fully activate when a crash occurs or deploy by mistake, the mistakes can be deadly.

Some early models have a reputation for using too much force when they deploy – leading to catastrophic and sometimes fatal injuries.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed that between the years 1990 and 2007, nearly 300 people lost their lives because their airbags had failed.

Just last year, Honda recalled 1.6 million of their vehicles because of potentially deadly airbags made by the Takata Corporation. The move – which generated headlines around the world – came on the heels of at least 14 deaths and more than 200 injuries caused by the airbags.

The root of the problem was a chemical drying agent that could cause the airbags to rupture, resulting in shrapnel to explode back into the faces of drivers and passengers.

What Should I Do If My Airbag Malfunctions?

Just as with the car accident itself, the steps you take in the immediate aftermath have a strong bearing on what happens next.

If you’re injured by a malfunctioning airbag, you may be able to seek compensation through a personal injury claim. The key to winning your case, though, centers upon proving the airbag failed.

That’s why it’s vital you maintain possession of your vehicle and all parts of the airbag, which can be easier said than done.

  • Don’t let your insurance provider take possession of your vehicle after declaring it a “total loss.”
  • Do all you can to ensure your vehicle’s on-board computer system is not erased.
  • Keep all parts of the malfunctioning airbag, including the sensor.

If it can be successfully proven your vehicle’s airbag failed, you may be able to seek legal action against the maker of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the airbag, and whoever inspected and maintained your airbag.

How Can I Minimize Injuries From Airbags?

Even when airbags properly deploy, there can be injuries to a wide variety of body parts. Commonly reported injuries from airbags include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Fractures to the rib cage, face, skull and limbs
  • Eye injuries
  • Asthma attacks
  • Internal bleeding.

To better protect yourself, there are a few proactive steps you can take each time you enter a vehicle.

  • Always use your seatbelt.
  • Move your seat back about 10 inches from where the airbag deploys.
  • Make sure children under 12 are riding in the back seat and are seated.
  • Do not place any objects on the dashboard.
  • Tilt the steering wheel toward your chest rather than your head or neck.

Remember, just as airbags can be an incredibly effective way of protecting you in the event of a crash, they also have the ability to cause you to experience a critical injury.