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The science behind potential airbag failures

Much has been said about the Takata airbag recall. It has been reported that nearly one in seven vehicles on the road in the United States could be potentially affected. This translates into more than 30 million cars, trucks and vans across the country. In light of the debate over who would be responsible for injuries stemming from potentially defective airbags, not much has been said about what makes them dangerous.

A recent article published in The Atlantic does a great job of describing this, and we will highlight it through this post. 

Essentially, the danger, and suspected defect can be traced to the chemical compound used to inflate the airbags that are supposed to protect a driver in the event of a crash. Prior to 2001, airbags were inflated by using tetrazole; but in 2002 Takata changed the compound to ammonium nitrate. Takata reportedly defended this change by saying it was “safe and effective for use in airbag inflators when properly engineered and manufactured.”

While this may seem to be a good idea, it likely ignores the fact that ammonium nitrate is fairly unstable, which means that it could explode violently, and when it is not supposed to. While we are not making any legal predictions, it would not be surprising if this was the reason so many airbag casings were disintegrating when the airbags are inflated. When this danger is combined with the fact that ammonium nitrate is far cheaper than tetrazole, it could form the basis for a products liability lawsuit.

It remains to be seen whether this will actually happen, but the unchecked danger does not bode well for consumers. 

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