Although air bags are supposed to protect a vehicle's occupants in a crash, they often cause injuries that would not have occurred if the car did not have an air bag. The primary problems with air bags we have seen in litigation are the following:
- Overaggressive air bags
- Oversided or Untethered air bags
- Front-mounted horizontally deploying air bags
- Inadequate Warnings
- System Malfunctions
- Failure to deploy
- Lack of an airbag
Some air bags deploy too fast and too far into the occupant's space. Some bags deploy at speeds in excess of 200 mph and, since they are designed to restrain an average sized male, such bags can have devastating effects on small women and children. This defect can cause severe head injuries, brain damage, blindness and even decapitation.
Oversized or untethered air bags
Air bags that are too big or they do not have tethers may come too close to occupants during the inflation process. Tethers are simple cloth straps sewn into the fabric on the inside of the bag to limit the rearward movement of the air bag during inflation. Despite the industry's knowledge of the dangers of untethered bags (most driver's side bags have been tethered for years), many passenger side bags do not have tethers.
Front-mounted horizontally deploying air bags
This design causes the air bag to deploy directly toward the passenger during inflation before it has formed its fully inflated shape - the "giant pillow" shown in the television commercials. In truth, in the early stages of deployment, an air bag is more like a missile than a pillow. A safer design used by some car manufacturers is to mount the air bag on the top part of the dashboard as close to the windshield as possible and to direct it upward toward the windshield at the beginning of the inflation process. Ford, GM and Chrysler discussed such air bags (called top-mounted vertically deploying air bags) back in the early 1990s, yet continued to put rear facing horizontally deploying bags into its cars. Particularly alarming is the presence of these defective bags in many minivans, which are intentionally marketed to families with young children. Worse still, the Chrysler minivan television ads show young children sitting in the right front passenger seat directly in the line of fire for these defective bags.
The government only requires the sun visor-warning label. The car companies could put more warning labels in cars (on the dashboard, for example) to explain to people that a deploying air bag can be very dangerous, especially to children and small-stature women.
There have been numerous reported instances (and recalls) of air bags because of unnecessary deployment (on ignition, upon striking a pothole or curb). These are typically caused by a problem in the electrical system or sensors.
Failure to deploy
Although frontal air bags are not designed to deploy in every type of collision (such as rollovers and side impacts), they should deploy in accidents where the impact is frontal and the speed at impact is moderate (about 20-25 mph). The failure of the air bag to deploy can be caused by defective sensors or improper placement of the sensors.
Lack of an air bag
Air bags are not a new idea. Air bags were first patented in 1920 and the major car companies have been designing and testing them since the 1950s! Ford and GM were selling cars with air bags as early as 1972. Yet, many cars that come off the assembly line still do not have air bags located in all of the areas of the care to provide full occupant protection.
Thousands of automobiles with defective air bag systems are on the road in the United States today. When those cars are involved in routine collisions, people will be unnecessarily injured.