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May 2nd, 2000

The Airbag Issue

Every car sold in America has airbags. Airbags, we were originally told, can save your life in the event of an accident. The question raised in the late 90s was, "Can airbags kill, too?"

Car companies responded with "second generation" airbags, which deployed at a different rate. They were slower, and designed to be less forceful. We also got side airbags around that time, which would protect people from various types of side impacts.

But I won’t deny it: airbags scare me. The idea of a bag exploding in my face and possibly causing injury is not pleasant, to say the least. Is it "better" than suffering injuries as the result of an accident? Sure. But airbags might just be adding more harm to the mix.

In 1995, Robert Sanders was driving his 95 Dodge Caravan with his 7-year-old daughter in the front seat. He ran a red light at 30mph, and slammed into another car (SUV?) The impact set off the airbags. His daughter was killed, allegedly by the airbag. The case is currently in court. The accusations from both sides are rather far-fetched, to me. Sanders claims that DaimlerChrysler knew that airbags would kill people, but put them in anyway (possibly due to governmental pressure?) And DaimlerChrysler is checking Sanders’s driving record and possible prescription drug use.

The crux of DC’s argument is that the girl wasn’t sitting properly in the front seat, and airbags can only work when the passenger is seated with his/her back flat against the seat. But come on, let’s get real: how many people are seated like that all the time in their cars? If this is going to be DC’s driving force in the case, I’d say it’s weak at best.

Sanders believes that DC didn’t warn him enough about what airbags can do. No offense, but has he been under a rock? There are warning signs in the vehicle and in the vehicle’s manual. And lest we forget all the news stories about airbags. But it leads back to one of the issues at hand: did DC know that airbags can kill?

Who is to blame in this case? In my mind, the fault in this incident lies with Sanders: he ran a red light. I won’t deny that it’s tragic, because it is very tragic when someone is lost in a car accident. On the other hand, I don’t think DC is out of the woods – but it’s not entirely their fault. The other chunk of fault lies with both the automakers and the government. If they knew these things were dangerous – which they undeniably are – why were they put into cars?

Airbags save lives. But at what price? -pm

Posted in Cars

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