Consumer safety advocates have trumpeted the life-saving capabilities of
airbags for years, and auto manufacturers are now required to equip all
new vehicles with the devices. But what about when they fail to deploy?
According to a
studycommissioned by the Center for Auto Safety, in recent years 303 people
were killed in crashes of General Motors vehicles where the airbags did
The study, conducted by Friedman Research, combed the federal Fatality
Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for fatal auto accidents that featured
airbag failures. Specifically, the study looked at crashes involving models
that have now been recalled, the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and the 2003-07
Saturn Ion. The researchers looked for non-rear impact crashes in which
the airbags did not deploy and in which people were killed.
Watchdog Group Plans to Present Evidence to Congress
Congress will soon be holding hearings to look into whether GM and the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had enough evidence
of the dangers of those models to issue recalls much sooner than they
actually did. The two vehicles were recalled just last month, but the
Center claims that there were reports of problems and complaints dating
back more than a decade.
The Center argues that GM should have taken action and issued a recall
much sooner, and that the NHTSA was not aggressive enough in investigating
the consumer complaints and enforcing regulations. GM has reported to
the NHTSA 31 crashes and 12 deaths linked to the problem that led to the
recall. According to the automaker, the recalled cars have a faulty ignition
switch that can unintentionally move out of the “run” position,
thus shutting off the engine and disabling the airbags. If the stalling
of the engine leads to an accident, the airbags will not work.
The FARS data that was utilized for the Center’s study looked at
accident reports filed by state and local police throughout the country.
This sort of raw data can sometimes be misleading and can artificially
inflate the scale of the problem. NHTSA files show only 87 complaints
about the vehicles stalling, with no deaths reported from those incidents.
In addition, half the models that GM recalled have no complaints of stalling.
Death counts can sometimes be exaggerated during the mild hysteria of a
recall. During the Toyota sudden acceleration recall in 2009 and 2010,
a widely reported death toll topped 100. But once the government investigated
all of the reports, only five deaths were tied to unexpected acceleration
in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. That being said, there is clear evidence
that the GM ignition problem led to some
auto accidents, and that airbag failure may have turned some of those accidents fatal.
What to Do if Your Airbag Fails During an Auto Accident
If your airbag fails during an auto accident, resulting in injuries or
death to you or your passengers, you should contact a personal injury
attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts of your case and
determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they can help you seek
the compensation you deserve.