Involvement in a side impact or T-Bone collision can result in serious injuries. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports 27 percent of deadly collisions in 2009 were T-Bone accidents. These collisions are likely to cause permanent or fatal harm because a side door panel provides little shield from force and cannot prevent intrusion of the vehicle hitting your car.
Side airbags (SABs) are an important safety feature to protect your body from the force of a side impact crash and to keep your head and chest area from being hit, or striking objects. While side airbags save lives, an experienced car accident lawyer knows National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations on side airbags are almost non-existent.
Side Airbags Need More Regulations
NHTSA does not require installation of side airbags in vehicles, although SaferCar.gov reports between 700 and 1,000 people killed in T-bone crashes each year could have survived if their car had side airbags.
Not only does NHTSA not mandate the installation of this important safety feature, but it also does not regulate installation of SABs when vehicle manufacturers do include them. People who purchase cars with the belief they are buying a safe vehicle with side airbags may be surprised to find the airbags have not gone through testing protocols or been required to meet requirements of front airbags.
There are standards for side airbags, but they are voluntary and were not developed by NHTSA. Instead, a group of auto experts called Technical Working Group (TWG) created guidelines and not all car manufacturers follow them. Those shopping for vehicles who want to ensure their airbags follow guidelines will need to refer to either owner's manuals or to lists of vehicle features to see if the TWG guidelines are denoted. On Safer Car, vehicles with side airbags meeting TWG guidelines are labeled with an "M."
Determining whether airbags are certified is not the only consideration. There are different types of side airbags, including curtain and tubular side airbags. Some come out of the side doors of vehicles, while others descend from the roof above windows. Some are designed to protect passengers and driver in both the front and rear of the vehicle, while others only have front seat side airbags. Determining which will be most effective at keeping the head and neck safe in a crash is difficult without a lot of research into IIHS crash tests (and not every car goes through crash tests for side impact safety features).
Parents with kids also face the added concern of not knowing how side airbags are going to impact child safety. Before 1999, NHTSA advised parents not have to kids sit next to or lean on doors with side airbags but there is no current clear recommendation. NHTSA has studied side airbag deployment in accidents, but only six of the 92 collisions NHTSA looked at with deployed side airbags had children in the car. The possible safety risk for kids are not fully understood.
Clearly, with T-bone accidents presenting such a major risk, NHTSA needs to do a better job in ensuring side airbags are providing proper protections.