How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags have only been around since the 1970s when Ford introduced them in an experimental fleet of cars. It wasn’t until 1998 that airbags became a requirement in all new vehicles. Airbags are now in all of our cars, but do you know how they work?

Parts of an Airbag

There are three main parts to an airbag: the bag, the sensor, and the inflation system.

  • The bag itself. The actual airbag is made of thin, nylon fabric. It’s folded into the steering wheel or dashboard.
  • Sensor. The sensor tells the bag to inflate in a collision. The sensor is calibrated to detect a collision force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour.
  • Inflation System. The airbag is inflated with sodium azide and potassium nitrate with a device that’s the equivalent of a solid rocket booster. The two gases react quickly to produce a large pulse of hot nitrogen gas which inflates the bag causing it to burst out of the steering wheel or dashboard as it expands.

What Happens When an Airbag Inflates?

When nitrogen is produced by the inflation system and the bag inflates, it bursts out of the steering wheel or dashboard. The reaction happens faster than you can blink your eye, keeping you from colliding with the steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield. About a second after the airbags inflate, they are already deflating because of holes in the airbag, so it can get out of your way

Why Would My Airbags Fail to Deploy?

Unfortunately, airbags don’t always work as they’re supposed to. For example, Takata airbags have been under scrutiny and millions have been recalled for defects that have killed several people instead of saving them. But why would your airbags fail to deploy?

Airbags are supposed to deploy in only moderate or severe crashes. They are not designed to deploy in all accidents for valid safety reasons. Whether or not they deploy depends on many factors.

Those factors include:

  • How fast your vehicle was traveling
  • The direction of the impact
  • Location of crash sensors
  • Design of your system’s airbag
  • Details of other vehicles in the crash

Because there are so many factors that affect whether or not your airbag should deploy, it is important to speak to an experienced car accident attorney. Your attorney would need to examine the details of your crash and your car’s system to determine why your airbags failed to deploy. If your airbags should have deployed but failed to, your attorney will need to investigate more closely to determine the true cause of failure.

Some of the most common reasons for failure include:

  • Computer activation issues
  • Defective crash sensors
  • The airbag was in a previous crash
  • Defects in the airbag model in either design and manufacturing
  • A child was in the front seat
  • The crash was not severe enough

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The Types of Airbag Malfunctions

When an airbag fails to deploy or deploys incorrectly, it can cause serious and devastating injuries. There are numerous airbag malfunctions that can result in injury and harm to drivers and passengers. Those include:

  • Failure to deploy
  • Accidentally deploying at the wrong time
  • Deploying too aggressively
  • Airbags deploy too late
  • Airbags exploding

Injuries Caused by Airbags

Airbag malfunction is serious and can result in fatal injuries. When an airbag fails to deploy or deploys at the wrong time or in the wrong way, it can cause even worse injuries to passengers and drivers during an accident. In some extreme cases, airbags can even explode, sending shrapnel around the vehicle and causing fatal injuries.

Common injuries caused by airbags include:

By far, the most common injuries suffered when an airbag malfunctions or fails to deploy are head and facial injuries. That is because the airbag is meant to help protect the head and face from suffering an injury during a crash. Without the airbag there to offer cushion and support, the head and face can slam violently into the steering wheel or the side window. This can result in significant facial injuries, as well as head trauma that could be life-threatening.

How to Prove Liability if Airbags Did Not Deploy

If you believe that your airbag did not deploy properly during an accident, you may have cause to file a claim against the manufacturer of the airbag. This is just one of the many steps you may need to do after a car accident. Bringing a case against a manufacturer for a product defect falls under product liability law. This is a complex area of law and requires the services of an experienced attorney.

Strict Liability

A manufacturer is held under strict liability. This means that if a product is defective, they are held liable for any damages due to that defect. Even if they are unaware of the defect or could not have prevented the defect, they are still responsible.

When bringing a case against a manufacturer for defective airbags, you and your attorney will need to clearly establish four elements.

Those elements are:

  • Your airbag should have deployed during the accident but failed
  • Airbag defect caused the failure – this defect or flaw could have occurred during the manufacturing, design, transportation, or handling of the airbag
  •  You used the product as intended
  • You suffered injuries as a result of this defect

It is important to know that under strict liability, you and your attorney do not need to prove negligence.


In some cases, the airbag failed to deploy because it was damaged or tampered with during a repair. For example, a mechanic may have damaged a replacement airbag when installing it. When this occurs, your attorney may need to prove negligence, since the product was not defective.

To do this, your attorney must show that the defendant owed you a duty of care and failed in that duty. That breach of duty must have also directly caused your injury and damages.

Breach of Warranty

There may be times when you may have a claim against someone under the theory of breach of warranty. This is not common, but it does happen. Under a breach of warranty claim, the manufacturer must either breach an express warranty or an implied warranty. These cases are complicated and require specific knowledge of warranty claims and laws pertaining to these breaches.

As you can see, there can be multiple ways to assert a claim after a serious airbag injury. Your attorney will need to review your case closely to determine the best overall course of legal action to take.

How to Gather Evidence For Your Car Accident Case

To prove these elements, you must gather evidence for your case. This evidence is critical to winning your product liability claim and holding a negligent manufacturer accountable. After a car accident, valuable evidence is often tampered with, repaired, or even destroyed. For this reason, it is important to act quickly and begin gathering evidence immediately after your accident.

Do you know what to do after a car accident? You can help your case by doing the following:

  • Take pictures of the accident scene, including the damage to your car, the airbag itself, and any other valuable data
  • Collect contact information from eyewitnesses
  • Avoid getting your car repaired until your lawyer can examine the airbag and damage
  • Keep track of all expenses
  • Make notes about the accident and everything you remember

Your car accident attorney will take this investigation and collection of evidence even further. They may:

  • Employ accident reconstruction teams to show the severity of the accident and prove that the airbag should have been deployed
  • Gather expert testimony from product designers, engineers, and medical experts
  • Explore other airbag malfunction cases to see if there is a worrisome trend against a specific manufacturer

Why Speak to an Arkansas Car Accident Attorney?

Product liability cases are difficult and require a legal professional with specific knowledge and experience in this area of law. While your attorney explores a lawsuit against the manufacturer, you may also find you can collect damages from the “at fault” driver as well. Your attorney will need to examine all angles of your accident to build the best case for maximum compensation.

Speaking to an experienced Arkansas car accident attorney at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton is the first step towards putting your life back together again. We can help you hold irresponsible manufacturers accountable for the harm they’ve caused.


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