Defective Airbags on the Rise, Recalls Continue

by : Alan Haburchak

Since their invention in the 1950s, up through development during the 1970s and finally institution as a required feature in the 1980s, airbags have become an important factor in decreasing injuries of those involved in automotive accidents.

Airbags function as supplemental safety devices designed to work with seat belts to minimize injuries in vehicle accidents. Airbags are designed, in theory, to reduce the chance of an individual striking against the interior of a car thus reducing injury supposedly. In a moderate to severe automobile accident, both side and frontal impact airbags will likely deploy.

During a car accident various sensors throughout the vehicle determine the severity of the crash. An onboard computer, called the Electronic Control Unit (ECU), processes the information and, in an event of moderate to severe crash, it sends a signal to the inflater inside the air bag module. At that point the airbag is supposed to inflate, protecting the vehicle's occupants from serious injury as a result of striking the vehicle's interior.

As a result of the effectiveness of initial driver and passenger front airbags, the adoption of rear-passenger and side-impact curtain airbags has become more common over the last decade, in an attempt to create the highest degree of safety possible.

Unfortunately, as the number of airbags being placed in new cars has increased, so has the overall need for the airbags themselves. Thus, more airbags are manufactured and the overall quality of the airbags produced has seen some degree of decline.

Because of the increase of defective airbags from both abroad and in the United States, the overall quality has decreased with this contributing to the quality decrease. Because drivers usually never have the chance to test the airbags in their vehicle until the airbag's functionality becomes a matter of life or death, the possibility of defective airbags has lead manufacturers of a variety of automobiles to issue manufacturers recalls for the airbags in the vehicles, if there exists a possibility that the airbags might malfunction or there might occur airbag failure.

The following is a non-comprehensive list of airbag failure-related automobile recalls instituted in April through June of 2007 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

April 2007

BMW is recalling 225 MY 2007 6-Series passenger vehicles for failing to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, 'Occupant Crash Protection.

The front passenger seat has a sensing system that detects if the seat is occupied. This sensing is programmed to detect if the seat is occupied by a small adult or certain child restraint seats. In some vehicles, airbag deactivation occurs automatically when child seats are placed in the front. In some cases, the sensing system may misinterpret a properly seated small adult as one of these specific child seats, resulting in deactivation of the front passenger airbag when the airbag might be beneficial for the adult, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

May 2007

DaimlerChrysler is recalling 270,958 MY 2005 Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans originally sold in or currently registered in the 27 states plus the District of Columbia that use greater amounts of salt for winter road deicing. The up-front (UF) airbag sensors that contain brass bushings installed in these vehicles may corrode and crack allowing water to enter the sensor. These sensors provide enhanced air bag performance in certain types of frontal crashes.

In one of these crashes, with one or both of the vehicle?s UF sensors inoperative, the occupants will not benefit from the enhanced air bag protection that these sensors would provide.

Hyundai de Puerto Rico is recalling 2,967 MY 2005-2007 Tucson vehicles. Static airbag deployment testing conducted by NHTSA using fifth percentile female dummies indicated that a small stature adult driver not wearing a seat belt and involved in a frontal or near frontal crash, the deployment of the driver air bag may result in an insufficient margin of compliance as measured by the test dummy used in the NHTSA test. However, this may actually increase a chance of injury depending on the conditions associated with the driver during the car crash.

June 2007

DaimlerChrysler is recalling 798 MY 2007-2008 Sebring and MY 2008 Dodge Avenger vehicles. The front seat track position sensors utilized for the air bag system may not function properly. This could increase the risk of injury to front seat occupants during certain crash conditions.

DaimlerChrysler is recalling 39 MY 2007 Dodge and Freightliner Sprinter 2500 and 3500 trucks. The window airbag module diffuser material may contain hairline cracks. In the case of a crash with a trigger signal for the window airbag module, it is possible that such a diffuser may crack at the beginning of the airbag activation.

As previously described, there is always a risk for an automobile airbag to fail during an accident, which often sparks a recall if it does fail. The NHTSA continually monitors and provides information all vehicle airbag and safety recalls.