Although safety regulators around the world, not just the US, closely monitor the automakers to obey certain rules, GM’s ignition switch problem also revealed an unsettling problem with a critical safety system – the airbags.
The cars equipped with the defective ignition switch – with GM recalling 2.6 million of them – were linked to at least 13 deaths, while in all of them, and other accidents that only led to injuries, airbags didn’t function even as the car hit other cars or objects.
According to US federal safety regulators, the airbags should have deployed for up to 60 seconds after the engine stopped working, but GM engineers disputed the claims, as the cars only have a power reserve to record a crash for 150 milliseconds after the switch malfunctioned and the power was cut off.
“It’s very complicated, the logic behind it. It makes it very, very difficult for an automaker or supplier to explain why it did or didn’t go off in a certain situation,” said Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
As every automaker determines on its own how the airbags should work, we should note that it’s a very complicated piece of equipment – after the crash occurs, the processing unit of the car needs to asses – all in just 15 to 20 milliseconds – where was the vehicle hit, what position have the occupants and whether deploying the 150 mph airbag would do good or more harm.