Besides the seat belt, the most important safety innovation to be put into automobiles is arguably the air bag. These devices are simple in concept yet complex in their construction and functioning, and they have saved countless lives.
But as automobiles become more sophisticated and computer-controlled, air bags seem to be suffering from more and more problems. Most readers are aware of the General Motors recall scandal linked to at least 13 Oakland car accident fatalities. A faulty ignition switch on defective vehicles could prevent the air bags from deploying during a crash.
But the air bag problem extends far beyond GM. This year alone, 6.6 million vehicles have been recalled for problems with air bags directly or problems that could lead to air bag failure.
In many cases, the defect is not a hardware problem but a software one. The fact that automobiles are increasingly controlled by computers and algorithms has many performance and safety benefits. But when things go wrong with the software, the issues can be much harder to fix and far more dangerous than a defective piece of hardware. Air bags must be deployed within milliseconds of a crash and typically rely on sensors throughout the vehicle. A glitch in any of the synchronized systems could prove to be fatal for occupants in the vehicle.
This is a reality that is frustrating for automakers and absolutely vexing for safety regulators like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It is also one that promises to become even more complex as cars evolve toward full automation.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an auto accident, driver negligence may be only one factor to consider when pursuing a lawsuit. An experienced personal injury attorney can investigate the details of the crash to determine if automotive defects also played a role.
Source: Tire Business, “Airbags safer than ever — if they deploy,” July 17, 2014