If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an auto accident you expect your car's airbag to offer some protection.
However, one of the biggest product liability debacles in recent years involving General Motors (GM) has found this is not always the case.
Thirteen people have died in crashes involving older GM cars in which defective ignition switches meant airbags failed to deploy. The State reported the air bags did not even deploy in high impact crashes when cars hit trees and guard rails.
These are the death figures that GM is using. Other reports have suggested the death toll from the defect may be much higher.
The defect led to the recall of 2.6 million cars earlier this year. The suspect vehicles are mid sized cars – Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions.
Federal safety regulators say they are puzzled by the defect. They told Congress last month they believed the cars' air bags should have activated for up to 60 seconds after the engine stalled. But GM has since told The Associated Press that regulators were incorrect and the cars only had enough reserve power to sense a crash and deploy the air bags for a mere 150 milliseconds after the switch malfunction. GM was slammed at the Congressional hearing for failing to rectify a defect that would have cost 57 cents per vehicle to address.
The defect has called into question the effectiveness of airbags across the auto industry. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now "scrambling to find out from other automakers and air bag suppliers how their air bags would function in similar situations," reported The State.
The recall has brought the complexity of the air bag issue into sharp focus. "It's very complicated, the logic behind it. It makes it very, very difficult for an automaker or supplier to explain why it did or didn't go off in a certain situation," said Joe Nolan, a senior vice president for vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Notwithstanding the complexity of the issue, there is little debate about its impact. In a crash in 2006 in Wisconsin, a Chevrolet Cobalt suddenly stalled at 71 mph and hit a clump of trees. The airbags failed to activate. Two passengers died and the driver was severely injured.
GM says the airbags in newer cars would work for a slightly longer period of time if the ignition is off.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has also faced criticism over the time it took to order a recall, said it is talking to auto makers and air bag suppliers about how air bag performance relates to the position of the ignition switch. It promises to take "appropriate action" based on its findings which may entail new rules governing how long air bags must work if power to the vehicle is cut.
If you have been injured in a car accident or have lost a loved one, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit. When component on a car fails, you can often sue the car manufacturer, the manufacturer of a part or another party. Contact our Columbia car accident lawyers at 803.748.9990.