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 not deploy.
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.