Blow Out.pdf
Review the article “Blow Out” from
this week’s reading assignment. This article pertains to the recall of air bag
products. Assume you are the manager for a large automotive company that will
be using air bags in your products. What risk assessment tools will you use in
order to ensure that the product being installed into your vehicles meets
safety standards in order to avoid a recall? Use your course materials and
outside research to generate a solid analysis on why these methods would be
helpful. Your analysis should be supported by research.

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Write between 750 – 1,250 words (approximately 3 – 5
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Sources such as, Wikis, Yahoo Answers, eHow, blogs, etc. are not acceptable for
academic writing.Danger zone This artist’s
representation highlights the potential
hazard from an exploding air bag
Computer-generated illustration by Richard Kolker for TIME
forensic investigator sal fariello,
whose job is to deconstruct car crashes, has
witnessed a catalog of carnage caused by
air bags over the past two decades. In his
collection, there is a photo of a woman who
has been horribly scarred by an inflating
air bag. There’s an X-ray of a driver’s broken
wrists snapped in the “fling zone” of an air
bag that mashed both arms from a 10-and-2
position into the car’s roof. He can cite numerous drivers who suffered torn aortas
or lacerated brain stems, all the result of
being “punched” by an air bag inflating at
200 m.p.h. (322 km/h). “What’s sitting in
the front of the steering wheel is an explosive device,” explains Fariello, the author of
Airbag Injuries: Causation & Federal Regulation. “Nasty, unexpected events can occur.”
None have been nastier than the injuries
and deaths caused by exploding inflators
in air bags made by automotive supplier
Takata Corp., based in Tokyo. Its air bags
have been blamed for killing five motorists
in the U.S. so far. More than 10 million cars
from 10 makers—including BMW, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan and Toyota—have
been recalled. On Nov. 26, the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) ordered Takata to expand its
most recent recall from a regional one to
a national one. Takata declined on the basis that the problem is confined to areas
like Florida with high relative humidity.
Toyota and Honda are following NHTSA’s
advice and issued a national recall. All the
cars are from model year 2011 or older.
Takata’s suspect inflation canisters contain a propellant—tablets of ammonium
nitrate—that is ignited at the onset of a crash
to initiate a chemical reaction that produces
Sensors in your car
detect the pulse of
impact as well as
the position of
occupants, sending
signals to the
electronic control
unit in the middle
of the car. An
algorithm decides
whether to deploy
the air bags and at
what force—full or
partial power.
nitrogen gas to fill the bag. Moisture may be
destabilizing the ammonium nitrate. In the
faulty inflators, the blast shatters the canister, sending metal shards through the air
bag toward the driver. Arriving at the scene
of one such incident, police thought the victim had been shot in the face before crashing. “My understanding is our products in
this accident worked abnormally,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, who is in charge of Takata’s
global quality assurance, when prodded by
Nevada Senator Dean Heller during Senatecommittee testimony on Nov. 20.
On Dec. 2, Toyota called for a joint industry initiative to independently test
the Takata bags. “The safety, security
and peace of mind for our customers are
our highest priority, and I believe this is
shared with all the other automakers,”
said Simon Nagata, CEO of Toyota’s North
American manufacturing unit.
Perhaps these scenes—accident reports
detailing both gore and tragedy, congressional hearings well stocked with outrage,
and executives who struggle for the right
tone of response—should come as no surprise. It has, after all, been a very bad year
for the auto industry. General Motors’ recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier in 2014
stemmed in part from defects that led to
air bags’ not deploying at all, causing injury and death.
But the Takata crisis once again reminds us that this foundational piece of
auto safety equipment has always carried
the risk of injury—and death—riding
shotgun. People have been hurt because
they are the wrong size, shape or age to get
the optimal benefit from a device first designed for an average male. And now, in
Takata’s case, because of a defect.
How Did We Get Here?
an air bag in deployment has to first
measure—and then counter—the considerable inertial forces that are brought to
Air-bag inflators
are small metal
containers that
hold an igniter
and a propellant.
In a crash, the
ignited propellant
triggers a
chemical reaction
that produces
nitrogen gas,
which fills the
bag rapidly.
bear when your car crashes into another
vehicle or object. In a collision, your car
stops abruptly, but you don’t. Your head
and body keep moving forward, translating that energy according to Newtonian
physics until some other force arrests it.
Before the advent of air bags and seat belts,
this “velocity debt” was repaid—at terrible
cost—when your head or body smashed
into the steering column or dashboard.
To stop your head’s violent forward motion requires considerable counterviolence.
After a car’s accelerometers and sensors detect a crash pulse—the rapid deceleration
that signals impact—an algorithm in the
electronic control unit (ECU) then decides
whether to deploy the air bag and at what
pressure. If the ECU says deploy, the explosion that rapidly expands an air bag also
hurtles it toward your head at speeds ranging from 98 m.p.h. to 200 m.p.h. (158 km/h
to 322 km/h). In fact, the bag should be
deflating by the time your head makes
contact, creating a cushioning force that
dissipates the energy of the crash by distributing it over the larger surface area of the
bag. The entire process of sensing and deploying the air bag has to take place in 20 to
30 milliseconds, by which time your head
has already moved forward five inches.
Air bags have been saving lives since
1973, when General Motors produced
1,000 Chevrolet Impalas equipped with
air bags as an option. According to Byron
Bloch, an auto-safety expert who has long
campaigned for better air bags, Chevy
produced a good one: a dual-pressure system that protected children from a fully
powered air bag’s potentially lethal force.
GM was satisfied with the technology—
the concept was patented in 1953—and
Bloch said the company was ready to expand the program. “We were going to have
dual-pressure air bags phased in the ’74–’75
model year,” he says.
Instead, air bags disappeared for nearly
20 years. Why? The Big Three auto companies, led by Ford boss Henry Ford II and
his deputy Lee Iacocca, convinced President Richard Nixon that air bags wouldn’t
be cost-effective. The pressure on the Big
Three to offer air bags ultimately came
from smaller competitors, like Volvo, that
made air bags standard equipment. With
consumers clamoring for protection,
Congress made air bags mandatory as of
September 1998.
The design and testing standards of
these late-1990s air bags, however, would
not make them better than the ones GM
used in the early 1970s. When two elderly
women were killed by air bags in the early
’90s, it was a lethal indication that there
were flaws. “The elderly die very easily in
car crashes,” says Fariello, who has been a
paid expert witness for both plaintiffs and
defendants in injury lawsuits. The force
of the deployed air bag, even in low-speed
fender benders, was causing fatal chest
and brain injuries. Short women were being injured because they moved their seats
forward to reach the gas and brake pedals.
As a result, their faces were within 10 in.
of the steering wheel, which experts say is
the minimum safety margin.
Auto-industry safety organizations,
consumer groups, the Society of Automotive Engineers, NHTSA and the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety have debated test conditions for decades. NHTSA’s
frontal tests are run at 35 m.p.h. (56 km/h)
into a rigid barrier using a crash-test
dummy optimized for a 50th-percentile
male—about 172 lb. and 5 ft. 9 in. (78 kg
and 175 cm). Yet most crashes happen at
speeds below 35 m.p.h., and they involve
all kinds of people, objects and crash angles. Hitting a pole is different from hitting a wall or another vehicle.
The test method meant that passengers
who weren’t perfectly average were “out
of position,” in the vernacular of crash
8–14 M.P.H.
Takata’s propellant,
ammonium nitrate
tablets, may be
degrading over time,
particularly in humid
climates. This could
cause a violent reaction
in a crash, in which
the force blasts
apart the inflator,
causing injuries
or death.
Minimum crash speed
(13–23 km/h) that could
cause an air bag to deploy
How Good Are Air Bags Anyway?
but the bottom line on air bags is
that their contribution to an accident’s
survivability has always been incremental. Seat belts are the first and most important line of defense. Studies show that if
you wear a seat belt, you have about a 45%
greater chance of surviving a potentially
lethal crash. Adding an air bag improves
that figure to 50%, with a margin for error
time December 15, 2014
for an air bag to deploy
Lives saved by air bags
in the U.S. in 2012
analysis. “If you are not a 50th-percentile
male, something else happens,” says Fariello. Something very bad, it turned out, happens to women and children. According to
NHTSA’s data, air bags killed 191 children
from 1990 to 2009, as well as 39 women who
were 5 ft. 2 in. (157 cm) or shorter.
“In the real world, crashes occur in all
different directions, but we still need some
standard test procedures to design around.
The question is, What proportion of realworld crashes have you covered?” says Priya
Prasad, a safety consultant and expert in injury biomechanics who was formerly Ford’s
top safety scientist. It would take several
years of debate before NHTSA added a fifthpercentile female crash dummy to the test.
There’s no question that air bags can
and do save lives, especially in combination with advanced seat belts. But frontalair-bag performance hasn’t changed
significantly in recent years, says Professor Richard Kent. He is deputy director
of the Center for Applied Biomechanics
at the University of Virginia, which does
testing for the government and other institutions. The adoption of advanced air
bags that depower in low-speed crashes,
mandatory since 2006, and moving kids
out of the front seat and into backseat restraints marked the last big survivability
improvements. “As far as injury effectiveness, there’s no reason to think it’s substantially different than what it was five
years ago,” he says.
in both cases. According to NHTSA, frontal air bags saved 2,213 lives in 2012, but
seat belts saved 12,174 lives, more than five
times as many. Keep in mind that 33,561
highway deaths were recorded in 2012. If
you crash at a high speed and aren’t wearing a seat belt, having an air bag in the car
is as useful as having a balloon.
Can air bags get better? “In my opinion,
air-bag technology is mature. It has sort
of done what it is supposed to do,” says
Kent. There’s more promise in advances
elsewhere. Electronic stability control, for
instance, is reducing rollovers, which are
particularly lethal. More advanced seat
belts and sensors offer even more possibilities. By sensing the weight and position of
occupants, and whether they are belted,
belts work with air bags first to pretension
(that is, tighten) the shoulder strap and
then let it unspool to apply the minimum
force needed to restrain passengers without injuring their ribs or thorax, with the
air bag arriving to cushion the head. That’s
particularly important for the increasing
number of older drivers, who suffer a disproportionate number of chest injuries.
It might be possible, says Prasad, to
move to a smarter three-stage air-bag system. More likely, he says, is that black-box
data recorders now in every car combined
with newer anticollision warning and
Number of cars in the U.S.
recalled by 10 manufacturers
for Takata air bags
for the passenger to
hit the air bag
S O U R C E S : N H T S A ; TA K ATA
braking systems will improve the margin
of safety. “You will be able to predict what
type of crash. And once you start predicting, you could fire an air bag before the
crash.” Ultimately, self-driving cars may
render the whole driver-safety issue moot.
But that could take a decade or even two.
In the meantime, there are still a lot of
old cars out there. Fariello recommends
that you follow the New York State transportation department’s advice and hold
the wheel in the 9 and 3 o’clock position,
as opposed to the 10 and 2 that many people were taught. If you are short, consider
pedal extenders to keep your face at least
10 in. (25 cm) from the wheel. And as far as
car sizes go, in a collision big beats small.
Newton’s laws won’t have it any other way.
Fariello, Bloch and others are concerned that overweight people still face
greater danger. Current testing hasn’t
accounted for them. According to Humanetics, a company that makes crash-test
dummies, obese people are 78% more likely to die in crashes than average-weight
people. The company is developing a test
dummy that is 273 lb. (124 kg), with a body
mass index of 35.
There is no precaution that protects
you if your air bag becomes a weapon, as
has happened in some of the Takata incidents. Bloch, a longtime advocate for safer
air bags, believes carmakers should disclose the air-bag supplier for each model.
Some inflate in a basketball shape, while
others are pillow shaped, which is better.
Some have tethers that limit the distance
they can travel, which is potentially
less damaging.
Amid all this sobering news, it’s worth
noting that the death rate on U.S. roads is
declining—it has fallen 23% since 2005
and should decrease again this year—and
seat-belt usage is at a record high. We’re a
lot safer—and will be even more so when
the defective air bags are fixed.
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