Your car’s airbag system is one of the most important parts of the safety system for the vehicle. Proper inflation of the airbag at the right time may ensure that you and passengers survive an accident that could have caused serious injury or death. Airbags have saved thousands of lives through the years. The airbag system in most vehicles is very complex and is often activated within mere milliseconds after a crash to protect you and passengers.
According to the NHTSA, frontal airbags saved 44,869 lives from 1987 to 2015. However, there are times when an airbag may go off at the wrong time.
Airbags Go Off for No Reason
For example, according to a 2017 story in Canada, there have been several incidents where airbags deployed without warning. In one of the most recent incidents, there was not a crash, rollover or anything, but the side airbags went off while a couple was driving in a Honda minivan.
The media reported stated the driver was going down a straight and level gravel road at the speed limit when the airbags on both sides of the car went off. There were no major injuries in this incident, but it left the driver and passenger wondering why it had happened and what to do to prevent it from happening again.
In many cases, drivers with airbags going off for no reason must pay for thousands of dollars of repairs. They also may be left with injuries and damaged vehicles. Auto insurance companies do not often want to pay for damages because there was no accident. Auto manufacturers usually argue the drivers or road conditions were to blame.
After a random airbag deployment happened to the same couple again, they had an investigation done on their vehicle by a local repair shop. It was determined that in the case of some mid-2000 Honda Odysseys, an internal malfunction of the safety system called the Supplemental Restraint System could lead to a random deployment. The SRS is what controls when and how airbags deploy in these vehicles.
Further analysis suggests that in these types of incidents, it is possible that a bumpy road could cause vibrations that may fool the airbag system into thinking there was a rollover. The software can misinterpret this information and deploy the airbags when they should not.
Automakers, Honda included, usually argue that gravel roads are to blame, but others argue that the problem is with how the system was designed. In these cases, Honda argued that the airbag systems are sensitive to driving conditions that resemble a rollover scenario. The auto manufacturer stated that driving on a dirt or loose gravel road can make this happen.
But Honda vehicle owners are not the only ones that have had airbags explode in situations where they should not. For example a woman took VW to court in 2007 when her side airbags went off for no reason. Her husband was driving someone down a gravel road when the airbags went off. VW’s dealer tried to argue that the airbags went off when her husband struck a large rock, and the company would not pay for repairs.
The Alberta, Canada judge on the case ruled that airbags should only deploy in a serious accident. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to provide airbags that only inflate in an accident.
These cases are not the only ones that have occurred. In the US since airbags were introduced in passenger vehicles in the late 1980s, there have been complaints about unwanted or unnecessary airbag deployments. Since the late 1980s, it is estimated there have been thousands of improper airbag deployments that led to injury and even at least one death.
Crash Sensors and Airbag Deployment
The most vital part of the airbag deployment system in your vehicle are the crash sensors. These are electronics that tell the computer when the vehicle has been hit in a crash. They will respond to several types of stimuli, including a sudden stop, more pressure on parts of the car due to the force of the crash, etc.
There are many different sensors in vehicles to determine when airbags should deploy. They measure factors such as wheel speed, whether the passenger seat is occupied, brake pressure and impact force. The sensors will relay important signals to the control unit for the airbag. This system will analyze the information to determine when or if certain airbags should deploy. Unfortunately, as the above stories illustrate, their are scenarios where these systems can be fooled by road conditions and may deploy without warning in rare cases. These types of incidents are typically the result of a product defect, specifically in the airbag deployment unit.
If you are injured because your airbag deploys at the wrong time, such as when you are just driving or are stationary, you may be entitled to compensation. It is possible to suffer both injury and property damages. After all, when an airbag deploys, it usually costs thousands of dollars to replace the system. Both personal injury and property damages are potential sources for litigation when airbags deploy inappropriately. It is important to speak to a personal injury attorney in these cases to determine what your legal options are.