Why didn’t my airbag go off in my car accident?

As personal injury attorneys, we regularly help Georgia drivers who have been in serious automobile accidents. One question we hear time and again is: “why didn’t my airbag go off during my accident?” People lucky enough to walk away from a mangled car often wonder why their airbags didn’t inflate and if their injuries would have been less severe had the airbags deployed. In order to answer this question, we need a general understanding of the three components that make up the airbag system in every vehicle. The first part of this safety feature is the actual airbag itself, which is not really a bag at all, but rather a nylon balloon capable of inflating in an instant. Secondly, there is the inflation system that fills the bag with some type of chemical stew and blows it up to certain specifications. Finally, there are computer sensors throughout the automobile that are capable of analyzing complex data points at the beginning of a motor vehicle collision and then talking to the inflation system. These sensors are highly sensitive and have a miniscule window of opportunity to call the airbags to action. The sensors make the decision to deploy the airbags in about the amount of time it takes a human to blink.

GM airbag engineering specialist Ken Zawisa explains that the sensors are controlled by a sophisticated deployment algorithm: “The deployment-control algorithm in the sensing and diagnostic module (SDM) is initialized when an internal accelerometer senses a possible collision. After the algorithm is initialized, the microprocessor compares measured vehicle deceleration and other calculated values with calibration parameters stored in the SDM that were developed from many deployment and non-deployment crash events. To decide if  bag deployment is warranted, the SDM considers signals from multiple accelerometers and door-pressure sensors. If the algorithm commands an airbag deployment and the arming function in the SDM concurs, electrical power is provided to the airbags to begin deployment.” All that generally happens within 8 to 40 milliseconds of the initial impact.

There are three main reasons that an airbag doesn’t go off in a car or truck accident:

  1. The impact of the collision your were in was not violent enough to trigger the sensors to action. Rapid deceleration and increased force and pressure against parts of the vehicle are key components in the sensors’ determination that airbags are necessary.
  2. The position of the sensors in your vehicle are in contrast to the location of the impact to your vehicle. Most sensors are in the front and side of an automobile and even a substantial hit to the rear of the vehicle will not cause the sensors to make the bags inflate. We frequently represent clients in serious rear-end car accidents where the airbags did not deploy, and the reason is that they are not designed to go off in an accident like that.
  3. One or more parts of your airbag system are defective. Newer model vehicles have a dashboard light that should illuminate if an airbag problem is sensed. If this happens, makes sure you take your car to a professional. Diagnosing and fixing an airbag issue is a complex undertaking and not something that should be attempted by the average home weekend auto mechanic.

The airbags in our vehicles today are safer and more effective than the original systems that manufacturers began to put into vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. Some current airbag systems can even protect people inside an automobile involved in a rollover accident.

Even with these advances it is important to remember that the seatbelt remains the first line of defense when a motor vehicle accident occurs. Airbags are not a safety substitute, but rather a safety supplement to making sure everyone in your automobile is belted in.

So, if you have a car accident and your airbags don’t deploy, that doesn’t necessarily mean your car was defective. Even if your airbag failed to deploy due to a defect, this also doesn’t mean that you automatically have a product liability claim against the car manufacturer. If the failure of the airbag did not cause you any injury, then there is nothing to sue the car manufacturer for because in any Georgia product liability case you must be able to show that a defect in the product caused you to suffer injuries and damages. On top of that, product liability claims are very expensive to pursue, especially against car manufacturers. This means that even minor injuries resulting from an airbag failure may not be worth pursuing because it may cost more money to prove the case in paying for experts and court costs than you would actually get from a product liability case.

If you have questions about your Georgia car accident, including questions about why your airbags did not go off, contact the Atlanta personal injury attorneys at The Champion Firm, P.C. for a free consultation.

For more frequently asked questions about motor vehicle accidents, click here.