As someone who has recently been the victim of a rear end collision, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that airbags do deploy when rear-ended.
In my accident, the other driver rear ended my car by continuing straight from the inside left lane as I was making a left turn from the outside left lane. The initial crash damaged my car’s rear driver’s side door. It was the inertia from the impact that propelled the car into the traffic light pole where damage was sustained on the right front and rear passenger side doors.
The car was totaled.
Praise God, no one was hurt. And I didn’t have any passengers with me. While the side curtain airbags and driver’s seat airbags did deploy, the steering wheel and front passenger air bags did not. Let’s look at some other conditions in which air bags may or may not deploy.
Front Air Bags Don’t Deploy in a Rear End Collision
In an accident, whatever hits you or you hit stops your car from moving in the direction it was headed. But your body continues moving at the same speed (and direction). The airbag sensors necessary to activate the front airbags in the event of a crash are in the front of a car and sometimes the sides.
Front airbags are designed so you don’t hit your head on the steering wheel or dashboard. Airbags don’t go off in a rear-end collision because they wouldn’t be useful in protecting you against the type of injuries sustained in that type of crash.
Air Bags Will Deploy in a Head on Collision
Airbags save lives. But people also get injured by them all the time. That’s why auto manufacturers design airbags to deploy at the optimum time. Front airbags will deploy in a front-end collision because 1) the sensors for front airbags are located in the front of a car, and 2) that’s the type of accident for which front airbags are designed. If front airbags deployed in a rear-end collision, it might actually do you more harm than good.
Conditions for Air Bag Deployment
Airbags deploy with a lot of speed and a lot of force. That’s why they’re mostly programmed to go off in frontal or near frontal accident scenarios. Side curtain airbags and front seat airbags are designed to protect you from hitting your head on the door frame and fracturing your ribs on something like the door handle during a side impact – both the curtain and driver’s seat airbags deployed in my accident. These airbags can go off in a rear-end accident if the impact has enough force.
Air Bags May Not Always Go Off During a Crash
Considering that cars have been around since the late 1800s, airbags are a bit of a late development since auto-manufacturers only started placing them in cars in the mid-to-late 1980s. Airbags offer protection during a severe collision.
But deployment depends on the speed of the crash, vehicles involved, direction of the impact, design of the airbag system and the location of the crash sensors. Airbags typically don’t deploy because of fender-benders, striking an object at low speeds and some rollover situations.
Is a Car Considered Totaled If the Air Bags Are Deployed?
A car is only considered totaled if an insurance company decides that the cost of restoring the vehicle will exceed its value. Just because airbags go off doesn’t necessarily render a car totaled. Airbags are like chewing gum – a on-time-use item. Once they’ve been deployed, they must be replaced if the car is not considered totaled. The cost of replacing an airbag is between $1,000 and $6,000, which is no small figure no matter how you look at it.
When Will Airbags Deploy?
Most auto manufacturers program airbags to deploy when you hit something or something hits you with a speed of at least 10-16 MPH. Why? Because a crash at these speeds can cause you to suffer injuries, especially from the dashboard or steering wheel. The ECU, which is a car’s computer, is programmed to use seatbelt sensors to determine when to deploy airbags, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to always wear your seatbelt.
Airbag Deployment in a Rollover Crash
Ready for some shocking news? Airbags don’t always deploy in a rollover crash. Steering wheel, dashboard, side curtain, front seat and even knee airbags are designed to help you sustain the least amount of injury during a crash. Side curtain airbags can deploy during a rollover crash. They can remain inflated longer than regular side curtain airbags to protect you during a multiple roll crash. Sensors that detect a vehicle’s sideways movement and tilting can sense if a rollover is imminent and deploy air bags if deemed necessary.