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Airbag Failure

576 Killed in Crashes Where Airbags Failed to Deploy

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are approximately 30,000 motor vehicle-related deaths in the U.S. each year. The number of annual auto deaths has been in decline for the past three decades due to improvements in motor vehicle safety equipment.

Airbags have been credited with saving numerous lives since they were first implemented in motor vehicles in the 1970s. Unfortunately, despite advances in technology and auto safety regulations, airbags can fail to deploy in the event of a collision.

NHTSA recorded 576 deaths in crashes where front airbags did not deploy between 2001 and 2006. According to NHTSA, of those killed, 360 victims “would have benefited from frontal airbag protection.”


  • Faulty wiring
  • Failure to replace used airbags
  • Sensor failure
  • Loss of power prior to collision
  • Manufacturing flaw
  • Vehicle defects


  • Airbags became common in the late 80s and early 90s; however, injuries and fatalities occurred in instances where a major injury was not expected due to airbag deployment.
  • Airbag technology has constantly been evolving. Since the late 90s there have been several key changes to airbag designs:
  • Airbag designers began “depowering” airbags starting in 1998. The new designs reduced inflation energy and the frequency of deployment in low-speed crashes.
  • Federal regulations implemented in 2001 required automakers to phase in advanced airbag systems that can adjust to things such as crash severity, seat occupant, and seat belt status.
  • Automakers began installing “certified-advanced airbags” in 2003. Certified-advanced airbags were required in all vehicles by 2007.
  • The Fatality Analysis Reporting Systems reports that airbags failed to deploy in 18 percent of fatal frontal collisions reported between 1998 and 2006.
  • The National Automotive Sampling System/Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS) noted that non deployment occurred less in first generation airbags than in sled-certified airbags, 7 percent versus 11 percent respectively .
  • About 2 percent of airbag non-deployment in fatal frontal collisions represented potential system failures.


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