Why Do Airbags Cause Burns and Other Injuries

If you’ve been in a car accident and your airbag deployed, you may have noticed burns on your arms or other areas of your body that was exposed. Do you know why airbags cause burns?

Occupants of a vehicle in an accident suffer burns from the chemicals inside the airbags when it deploys. The bag can also cause friction burns when it strikes the driver or passengers

Airbags save lives, but they also cause damage to drivers and passengers. Since airbags have been in use, reports indicate certain types of injuries are more prevalent.

Airbag burns and other injuries

The development and use of airbags in automobiles have reduced the number of vehicular related deaths. However, there has been an increase in injuries associated with the deployment of the bag.

Burns associated with airbag deployment

Most burns caused by airbag deployment in a wreck are related to the release of the chemicals inside the bag. Airbags are typically filled with sodium azide, but sodium hydroxide is also used in some vehicles.

Chemical burns

When a car crash happens, an electrical charge is triggered, causing the sodium azide or sodium hydroxide to explode and convert to nitrogen gas inside the bag. Often the bag ruptures and the high-temperature gases burn the driver or passengers.

Sodium azide is a broad-spectrum biocide that is highly toxic to humans. Sodium hydroxide is caustic and can cause eye and skin burns and even loss of hair. Exposure to either chemical is dangerous, and you should seek medical attention. Here are links to the CDC on each of these chemicals:

Friction burns

An airbag deploys at a fantastic speed. For an airbag to adequately protect a driver from contact with the steering wheel, it must detect a collision, signal the airbag, and ignite the chemical to explode the bag.

This series of events happens in less than a blink of a human eye, approximately .016 of a second. The bag deploys at various speeds, some as high as 220 miles per hour.

Airbags contacting a driver’s skin at such high speed can cause significant friction burns and abrasions. Burns of the arms, face, and neck are common and have been widely reported.

Other injuries caused by airbags

Airbags are balloons housed in the steering wheel of most cars. They are designed to deploy when the vehicle is involved in a collision. The bag explodes out of its housing and impacts the driver.

The brunt of the force is taken by a driver’s chest and head. The most common injuries are bruises and abrasions, mainly to the face, neck, and arms.

Head and Neck injuries from airbag deployment

The most common injuries to a person’s head and neck caused by an airbag are facial traumas, TMJ, and cervical injuries. Airbags have been proven to reduce the number of severe head injuries; however, it has not eliminated them.

Because the face is taking the majority of the strike, eye injuries, such as corneal abrasions, are typical. In some cases, victims suffered from retinal detachments and orbital fractures.

The sound of the explosion from the airbag can cause ear damage, i.e., tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss have all been reported.

Airbags have significantly lowered the severity of injuries to the heads of drivers and passengers in motor vehicle accidents; however, they’ve not reduced the number of head injuries. See the report here.

Injuries to the chest caused by an airbag deployment

Reports of harm to the chest are typical in airbag deployments, and some include rib fractures and even damage to the cardiovascular system.

Airbags do cause significant chest injuries. Chemical burns and blunt force chest injuries to a driver or passengers occur from the explosive force of airbags and associated chemicals. Chest wall injuries such as sternal fractures have been reported and should be evaluated.

Injuries to legs and arm caused by an airbag deployment

The most common damage to the victim’s limbs is to their shoulders and forearms. The injuries include fractures, burns, and dislocations. There is very little evidence of airbag causing harm to a victims’ legs.

If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, contact our office to speak with an experienced attorney. We have offices in Hammond and Livingston, Louisiana. Call our offices at (225) 686-8006 or visit our website to send us an email.

  • To learn about whiplash, click here.