IN THE SPRING OF 2016, A 17-YEAR-OLD HIGH SCHOOL senior from Texas had a minor collision with another vehicle. She was driving a 2002 Honda Civic when she rear-ended another car. Even though she was only travel- ing at 15 miles per hour, the impact was forceful enough to
activate the airbag in her car.
The airbag expanded with too much force,
rupturing a metal canister that was part of
the airbag. Tragically, a piece of jagged metal
shrapnel from the exploding canister pierced
her neck, severing an artery. She died shortly
Sadly, this teen was one of at least 20
people known to have died from defective airbags manufactured by the Takata Corporation
of Japan. At least 200 more people have also
been injured by defective airbags.
Most of these casualties have occurred in
the United States, resulting in the recall of
more than 40 million vehicles since 2001 so
far—making it the largest auto safety recall in
history. And that number is expected to rise
to 65 million or more. While Hondas were
most affected by the recall, vehicles made by
Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and other car-
makers were affected as well. As of December
2017, about 20 million airbags had been
replaced, leaving millions of defective airbags
in vehicles still on the road.
How airbags save lives
Reports show that thousands of lives have
been saved by airbags. In short, here’s how
they protect people in a crash: When a car
stops suddenly, the bags inflate rapidly, softening the impact that your body experiences.
But you don’t want an airbag deploying
every time you slow down, or in a minor
collision when cushioning isn’t necessary.
So airbags are equipped with a sensor that
detects a rapid deceleration. Older airbags use
a mechanical sensor system that involves a
metal ball connected to either a spring or a
magnet. When you slam on the brakes, the
ball breaks free and activates an electronic VEHICL
The Story Behind
By Brian Rohrig