What can be done to protect children against airbags?

The easiest solution is to place children under 12 in the rear seat, as recommended since November, 1996, by the federal government. Unfortunately, this is a band-aid fix because the rear seat poses serious restraint fit problems for small occupants. Besides, many vehicles do not contain a rear seat. Also, some parents or caregivers have more than three children under age 12 in the vehicle at the same time.

The safest design alternative is to use “smart bag” technology. Smart bag technology is based on the 1973 GM dual stage airbag design and uses the following principles:

  1. Airbag deploys at certain levels of power based on crash severity.
  2. Airbag deploys at certain levels of power based on weight of the occupant in seat.
  3. Airbag deploys at certain levels of power based on belted status of occupant.
  4. Airbag will not deploy if child seat placed on seat.

Airbag risks could also be reduced by using the air pillow design patented by GM. Several vehicle manufacturers use this design on many of their passenger airbags today.

Here are the reasons why airbags are not the safety panacea the automotive industry would have us believe:

  1. Out of 96 airbag deaths, 54 deaths were children 10 or younger;
  2. Airbags increase the overall risk of fatal injuries among children in below 12 mph Delta Velocity accidents by some 21%;
  3. In 96 airbag deployment deaths, the average accident speed was 12 mph Delta Velocity;
  4. In 27 airbag deployment deaths, the average accident speed was 10 mph Delta Velocity;
  5. In 2 airbag deployment deaths, the average accident speed was 5 mph Delta Velocity;
  6. Passenger side airbags are killing more children (in these low speed crashes) than they are saving
  7. Children have experienced a 63% net increase in the risk of death attributable to the installation of airbags.

Vehicle manufacturers defend their airbag designs by claiming that some 93% of all airbag deaths occurred because the children or small adults were out-of-position. This argument should fall on deaf ears for the following reasons:

  1. Parents make innocent mistakes sometimes with their children as it relates to child seat placement, buckling children with the 3-point belt, etc. However, they should not be punished for having made a mistake by having an airbag deploy unnecessarily;
  2. Vehicle manufacturers know that parents make mistakes and that is why the safety designs they use must consider human error; and
  3. Honda, Mercedes Benz and BMW designed their airbag systems with the worst possible out-of-position scenario in mind. To date, no child airbag deaths have been occurred in low speed accidents in these vehicles.

Another commonly used defense is that the low accident speed threshold of 8-14 mph Delta Velocity is necessary to meet the federal occupant crash protection standards for unbelted occupants. Yet, FMVSS 208 has had the same unbelted occupant protection standards in place since 1980. Accordingly, the manufacturers had to meet the same standard without airbags as they now have to meet with airbags.

Furthermore, in the early 1980’s, GM told the NHTSA that vehicle manufacturers could meet the occupant crash protection standards with better designed interiors, not with airbags. The GM project was called VSIP (Vehicle Safety Improvement Program) and focused on recessing instrument panels, rounding off and smoothing
surfaces, eliminating protruding knobs and incorporating padding on areas that were likely to be impacted by an unbelted occupant. GM reported that its VSIP plan reduced injury potential by 45% without increasing belt use, or using airbags.

The bottom line remains – airbags deploy in low speed accidents, when by definition, airbags are a supplemental restraint system. Statistics maintained by two government databases, the NASS (National Accident Sampling System) and FARS (Fatal Accident Reporting Service), indicate that 60% of all airbag deployments are occurring at accident speeds below a Delta Velocity of 15 mph. Yet, in accidents below 15 mph Delta Velocity, the likelihood of minor injury, even to unbelted occupants, is miniscule. However, once the airbag deploys in these 15 mph Delta Velocity or lower accidents, the risk of injury is increased several times by the very device that is meant to protect.

Child Safety Experiment for Public Awareness by Attorney E. Todd Tracy
Child Safety Experiment for Public Awareness by Attorney E. Todd Tracy

Airbags can and do save lives. However, airbags are a high speed accident safety device. Airbag Delta Velocity threshold levels should be increased from the present 8-14 mph Delta Velocity (can fire at 8, must fire at 14), to a Delta Velocity level that is closer to 18 mph like they are in Europe and Australia. If manufacturers refuse to change the airbag sensor calibration and algorithm diagnostics that determine accident speed fire or no fire, then the deployment angle of the leading edge of the airbag should be changed to deploying vertically rather than horizontally. Honda has had incredible success with the vertically deploying airbag design. Honda’s airbag design is based on GM’s air cushion restraint system which was first evaluated by GM in the early 1970’s.

The Tracy Law Firm represents injured vehicle occupants in an accident all over the United States for more than two decades that we have been handling vehicle defects cases involving children in accidents. We specialize in handling only vehicle defect cases and, we have many attorneys all across the United States for referral of cases that involves our expertise.

Contact us online, or, call us today at 214-324-9000 if you or your loved ones are seriously injured in an accident, and, find out if you have a Vehicle Crash worthiness Case.

Friday 18th January, 2013 | The TRACY firm in Dallas, Texas | Source: Vehicle Product Liability Attorney E. Todd Tracy

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