Air Bags: Recalls, Mysteries, and Driving Changes

Most of the time, I rarely think about my air bags. My car has full frontal air bags along with side curtain air bags. I have no desire to ever see what they look like or even discover how they work, but I’m very glad they are there. I have been in one major accident in my life, before the cars I owned had air bags. The seatbelt saved my life and protected me from suffering any major injuries. I’d like to avoid experiencing that again.

Recalls: I have been thinking a lot about air bags over the past several weeks though. It seems 11 automakers have issued recalls due to air bags not operating properly. The car makers include Honda, Subaru, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Mercedes-Benz. Model years vary for each car maker; some are for mid-1999 to mid-2006 models while others include 2013 and 2014 models. The one thing they all appear to have in common is they all have air bags made by Takata Corporation.

Over 5 million vehicles have been recalled so in the last six weeks, and I expect this to number to grow much larger. At the center of the recalls is the air bag inflator (usually the driver’s air bag) which ruptured a couple of air bags that deployed in Florida and Puerto Rico. The concern is these air bags are affected by long term exposure to hot and humid conditions resulting in them rupturing during deployment and leading to possible injury from flying metal parts. A number of injuries have been reported along with two deaths from the affected air bags.

Some of the recalls have been limited to certain regions of the US and other countries, while others have been national. To find out if you’re affected visit your automaker’s web site, call the service department of a local dealer, or visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website at

Mysteries: It would be hard for anyone not to have heard, read, or seen a news report related to the ignition related recalls affecting General Motors over the past several months. 13 people died in ignition related accidents involving older model GM cars. What most news stories didn’t note, is that in each of these car crashes, the air bags did not deploy after striking guardrails, trees, or other objects.

In one of the accidents that claimed the lives two teenage passengers, and injured the teen driver, the ignition switch was found in the “accessory”, not the “on,” position. Federal safety regulators told Congress in April they believed the vehicle’s air bags should have worked for up to 60 seconds after the car’s engine stalled. GM corrected this misconception pointing out the cars only have enough reserve power to deploy the air bags for 15 milliseconds.

While that was surprising, what regulators, lawmakers, and drivers learned next was even more surprising. On board computer systems determine in 15 to 20 milliseconds after an impact, where the car was hit, what position the occupants are in, and whether the air bags will do more harm than good if they are deployed. The software that determines this is different for every automaker. In fact, there are no standards for the software that controls each carmaker’s air bags, and no one, not the regulators, lawmakers, or you and I as a driver, know what will cause an air bag to deploy or not.

Driving Changes: Where do you hold your steering wheel? Depending on where you hold it, many drivers could find their hands and or arms thrust back into their face by an air bag deploying at 150 miles per hour.

I was taught to hold the steering wheel at 10:00 o’clock and 2:00 o’clock, but that’s changed! Students attending a driver training class today are taught to hold the steering wheel at 9:00 and 3:00 or 8:00 and 4:00, as well as to not lock their thumbs on the wheel. This helps the driver avoid injuries to the hands, arms, eyes, and face.

Take a moment to think about your air bags. Do you need to check on a recall or change how you hold the wheel? Share our questions, comments, and experiences with me in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook and Google + pages. I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

Share this post with your friends

Leave a Reply