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Airbags Can Save Lives, But Can Also Cause Injuries

When airbags deploy in the chest and face of a motorist, the entire process happens in less than a second and is comparable in force and speed to the detonation of an improvised explosive device. Airbags deploy at speeds up to 200+ mile per hour with noise levels of 170 decibels or more.

Airbags can cause many injuries, but most commonly damage to the face and head. Due to the sheer force and noise, the victim may suffer temporary or permanent hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and/or concussion.

Airbags Can Cause Hearing Loss

Even harmless, slow-speed bumps may cause airbag eruptions. Front seat vehicle occupants can potentially suffer from hearing loss due to airbag explosions as well as tinnitus, disequilibrium, tympanic membrane perforation, aural fullness, spinal cord injury, chronic pain, and mild traumatic brain injuries.

Compare to these common noise levels:

  • Conversations typically occur at about 60 dB, which is not loud enough to cause damage.
  • An idling bulldozer (not actively bulldozing) is loud enough at 85 dB to cause permanent damage after an eight-hour workday.
  • Earphones at maximum volume can reach a level of more than 100 dB, loud enough to begin causing permanent damage after fifteen minutes per day.
  • A thunderclap is around 120 dB
  • Gunshots can range from 140 to 190 dB, depending on the weapon.

It's worth noting that car doors and windows are typically closed when the airbag deploys, which causes the atmospheric pressure in the car to increase suddenly and dramatically. That pressure is applied to the entire body, but the ear is the system most damaged.

Although airbags significantly reduce the severity of TBI, the same airbags actually increase the number of car accidents concussions. Additionally, airbags are associated with a higher probability of death in wrecks overall.

The Evolution of the Modern Airbag

Automobile air bladders as a safety device were conceived in the 1940s, and today's airbags were designed by Germans in the early 1950s. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 requires airbag engineering and calibration to be capable of “saving” the life of an unbelted fiftieth-percentile-size-and-weight male crash test dummy.1

By our own regulatory standards, airbags in the United States trigger much more forcefully than in other countries, perhaps in deference to our relaxed attitude toward seatbelt use and enforcement. Upcoming third-generation airbags recognize whether a seat is occupied, restraint status (seatbelt use), size, weight, and position, and adjust airbag cushion deployment accordingly.

Other Injuries Caused By Airbags

In addition to head and ear injuries, airbag explosions may cause:

  • traverse fractures of the temporal bone
  • post-traumatic vertigo
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

Our Injury Law Firm Is Here To Help!

When tallying our client’s personal damages, we consider the possibility that he or she very likely suffered temporary or permanent hearing loss, PTSD, TBI, and/or mTBI and all of the related and downstream problems as a result of airbag detonation. Our caring legal team is ready to help you fight for the compensation you deserve to recover.

If you are suffering from an airbag injury, contact Anderson Boutwell Traylor today to discuss your personal injury case in a FREE case review.


1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a legislative mandate under Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety, to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations to which manufacturers of motor vehicle and equipment items must conform and certify compliance.