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Should Airbags Have Expiration Dates?

According to NBC News, some auto industry experts and government officials are starting to believe that airbags may need replace on every vehicle after a certain amount of time, regardless of the supplier.

Nothing Lasts Forever, says automaker executive

The recent massive airbag recalls, including Takata and ARC, have been due to the overinflation during a crash and the volley of shrapnel that follows. However, separate recalls since April 2016 have targeted vehicles whose airbags may not function at all, posing a risk of its own.

Research done by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration shows Takata airbags dating back to 2001 – 2003 model years may have a failure rate of 50 percent, according to NBC news. Newer models are expected to see similar failures as they age, too.

The reason why the Takata airbags are prone to these failures is because of the chemical used to inflate the airbags. According to NBC News, it has been found that ammonium nitrate, which has been to blame for the explosion of shrapnel in Takata airbags, is especially sensitive to extended use in hot, humid climates, but will eventually break down even in cooler areas.

Takata airbags now contain a desiccant – a substance to absorb moisture – but experts are unsure if that will prevent breakdown of ammonium nitrate over the entire life of a vehicle.

Explosive Inflators and Compressed Gas Inflators Can Fail Over Time

The issue of airbag functionality decay is really brought about by the length of time Americans keep their cars on the road. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the average age of vehicles on American roads is 11 years, with millions over the age of 15.

NBC News reports that airbags of all kinds, including ones with explosive or compressed gas inflators, will be prone to fail at some point.

Experts have offered a few potential approaches to solving the airbag conundrum:

  • Develop a way to test airbags or sense possible malfunction and send an alert to driver and/or manufacturer.
  • Advise motorists to replace airbags at a set date, 7, 10, or 15 years in.
  • Introduce new rules that mandates replacements be made in order to register a vehicle.
  • Disable airbags that go beyond their expiration to prevent malfunction risks.

Even if some airbags have caused injuries and fatalities, the NHTSA says airbags potentially save thousands of lives each year in the United States, reports NBC News.

NHTSA Airbag Statistics

The following information is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

  • Based on data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), during 2001-2006, there were 1,400 deaths that occurred in frontal crashes in which airbags failed to deploy.
  • The FARS reports that airbags failed to deploy in 18 percent of fatal frontal collisions reported between 1998 and 2006.
  • Between 1991 and 2001, approximately 8,000 lives were saved by air bags (NHTSA).

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