Following reports of a serious airbag injury to the occupant of a vehicle, NHTSA has started an investigation into the vehicle model involved in the incident. This is not the first time an airbag failure has been linked to injuries. Recalls have been announced in other situations where defective airbags were found in numerous vehicles of the same model. In some cases, defective airbags have been linked to serious injuries and even fatalities.
The NHTSA investigation began following a complaint that loose metal was flung from the side airbag in a 2012 Hyundai Elantra when the airbag deployed, cutting the driver’s ear in half. According to a report by Associated Press, NHTSA initially investigated only 2012 Elantra models but expanded the investigation to include 2011 and 2013 vehicles. NHTSA is upgrading the investigation to an engineering analysis. Hyundai has said the severed ear was an isolated incident and the company has not received any other reports of injury from side curtain airbags in 2012 Elantras. In July 2012, more than 220,000 Hyundai Santa Fe and Sonatas were recalled because of a problem with the system used to classify types of vehicle occupants.
Although they are designed to protect vehicle occupants, airbags require great force to deploy, putting passengers at risk of injury. According to a report by NHTSA titled “What You Need to Know About Air Bags,” airbags generally deploy rapidly, at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour. Most injuries associated with airbag deployment are minor, such as abrasions or burns.
Some vehicle passengers suffer serious or fatal injuries, especially if they are too close to the airbag when it deploys (including being in direct contact with the module). For example, if an airbag deploys too late after an accident and the occupant is unconscious and slumped over the steering wheel, the occupant could be seriously injured when the airbag deploys. If something is defective within the airbag, such as loose metal or other components, the force of the airbag deploying can fling that debris into the cabin of the vehicle, causing serious injury to vehicle occupants. Furthermore, if the airbag deploys too late or does not deploy at all, passengers can sustain severe injuries.
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