The Automobile Airbag Controversy Essay Research Paper

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The Automobile Airbag Controversy Essay, Research Paper The Automobile Airbag Controversy Since their invention, airbags have been one of the most controversial issues in the country. Airbags are designed to help prevent major injuries in car accidents by cushioning the blow delivered to the body. However, airbags can also cause injuries or death. While the government mandates that all new cars be equipped with airbags, a growing number of people are convinced that they should have the option of activating them. As the number of cars equipped with airbags increases, the number of deaths and injuries caused by them increases as well. The government should not be allowed to mandate equipment that can cause injury or death. Years ago, seat belts in automobiles became mandatory

to help prevent injuries in accidents. The original seat belts were active restraints; they required the operator to take some action in order to be restrained. While education and advertising increased the use of seat belts over the years, a large portion of the population was still not buckling up. The government s response was legislation in 1984 that required a driver s side passive restraint device be part of every 1990 model car sold in the United States. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole is credited with sponsoring legislation that would allow passive restraints to be gradually phased in between 1984 and 1990, making the mandate more palatable to the auto manufacturers. A passive restraint is one that requires no action by the operator. The acceptable passive

restraints were either an airbag or a motorized seat belt. Although the motorized seat belt is billed as a passive device, it still requires the operator to buckle the lap belt. Seemingly, the airbag is more passive, but it is designed to supplement the seat belt, so the operator is still required to buckle up. The airbag is more discreet than the motorized seat belt, being tucked into the steering wheel or just above the glove compartment on the passenger s side. Motorists found the motorized seat belts to be annoying. Many preferred the airbags, which were invisible and tucked away until needed. Airbags have become the clear preference of auto manufacturers and most consumers. This represents a complete turn-around from a few decades ago. In 1969, Transportation Secretary John

Volpe proposed that automobiles be equipped with an airbag type of safety device. The auto manufacturers vehemently objected. They did not want to incur the costs of development or testing. (Golfen 4) Airbags were designed for frontal impacts. There are generally three sensors along the front of the car, usually along the bumper, that detect a frontal impact. The number of sensors and their location vary from one manufacturer to the next. Most are situated to detect head-on collisions and front-end crashes within a 30-degree angle of the direction of travel. Bags are of no help at all in a side impact, rear impact, rollovers, or subsequent impacts. (Golfen 2) When at least two of the sensors detect an impact, an electronic signal is sent to the airbag, which causes it to inflate.

Airbag sensors have been refined. The newer sensor requires an impact of greater than the force of a car hitting an immovable barrier at a speed of 14 miles per hour. This prevents airbags from inflating in minor fender benders and parking lot accidents. This sensitivity far exceeds the government requirement of an impact of 30 miles per hour. This means that airbags may deploy more frequently than required. When an airbag is prompted to deploy, a solid, inert chemical called sodium azide is ignited. The chemical is stored inside the airbag system. Once ignited, azide turns into a clean-burning nitrogen gas. This immediately expands and rapidly inflates the air bag at a speed of just under 200 miles per hour. The airbag pops out from behind a thin plastic covering. In some cars,