Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Permanent Hearing Loss from Airbag Deployments in Auto Accidents

The Introduction of Automobile Safety Features
With the invention of the automobile followed the inevitable occurrence of auto accidents. As a result, manufacturers and scientists have been developing ways to minimize injuries to people involved in car accidents. New safety features are developed and introduced almost yearly in an attempt to reduce and ultimately eliminate injuries to occupants of automobiles during an accident. Such safety developments include antilock brakes, head rests, shatter proof windows, seatbelts and airbags.

Airbags are a type a vehicle restraint system that was first introduced in the 1970’s and became a common feature in most vehicles in the early 1990’s. Airbags are designed to rapidly inflate during a car crash to prevent the occupants from striking the interior of the vehicle compartment. More modern luxury vehicles now have multiple airbags, including side impact airbags, knee airbags, rear curtain airbags and even seat belt airbags. No one will dispute that airbags (for the most part) have saved countless lives and minimized injuries to thousands of people who were involved in car accidents, especially those who were not wearing their seatbelts. However, with most scientific advances there are always some unintended negative consequences. This is the same with airbags.

The Unintended Consequences of Airbags
It has been estimated that there have been over two million airbag deployments in the last 10 years. Modern airbags fully deploy in approximately 20-30 milliseconds, with an incredible amount of speed and force that is necessary to deploy it quickly enough to have it inflate before the vehicle occupant strikes the steering wheel or dashboard during an automobile accident. However, deploying an object at such an incredible speed and force often comes with a cost. From an orthopedic standpoint, studies have shown there has been an increase in broken sternums, broken ribs, forearm fractures and shoulder injuries as a result of the power of the inflating airbag. However, studies also show that there is another, more unexpected result from this phenomenon: the effect that airbags sometimes have on an occupant’s hearing.

Hearing Loss
The amount of noise associated with airbag deployment from a car accident varies with the type, size and location of the airbag. Deployment of a driver’s side front airbag will generate mean peak sound pressure levels of approximately 160 dB (decibels). A passenger side front airbag will generate mean peak sound pressure level of 168 dB, while dual airbag deployments create a mean peak sound pressure level of 170 dB. When you compare these with the level of decibels that can cause hearing loss, the problem becomes evident. Studies have shown that the pain threshold from noise is about 140Db and that a single exposure to sound pressure of this level can cause permanent, severe hearing loss. The most recent development of side airbags as optional equipment in some luxury vehicles has only enhanced this problem. The deployment of a side airbag generates a mean peak sound air pressure of 178 dB. That is more than 20% higher than the level necessary to cause permanent severe hearing loss. Add in the fact that the side air bag deploys closer to the ear and the danger becomes escalated.

The Reality of Airbag Effects in Automobile Accidents
The following is a post from a chat line on the Hearing Loss Web. It began when a young person said (in part):

“Last week I was involved in what should have been a minor car accident. I wasn’t paying attention and gently hit the car in front of me, which was stopped for a light.

“What happened next was terrifying. The inside of the car seemed to explode in a deafening roar. I had unimaginable pain in both ears and considerable bleeding from my ear canals. I also had a very loud ringing and was virtually deaf.

“I was taken to the hospital where it was quickly determined that my ear drums had ruptured. I was referred to an ENT who said they should heal in two to three weeks, but possibly with some scar tissue that would affect my ability to hear low sounds. As for the ringing, he said that could be permanent. He also said I had suffered inner ear damage that would affect my high frequency hearing, although he said it was hard to tell how much. He concluded by saying I would need to face life “hearing impaired” and may need to look at hearing aids.

“I just can’t believe this. What has our government done in requiring airbags that leave passengers deafened from minor accidents? I have always protected my hearing and never would have thought about going to loud concerts or auto races without effective ear protection. I am only 22 and I can barely hear a conversation in a quiet room. With background noise, I am almost deaf.”


The results of researcher Richard Price’s studies indicated that 17% of the people exposed to the sound concussion from an air bag deployment in an automobile accident experienced permanent hearing loss. That is almost 1 in every 5 people in a car accident with an air bag deployment. Over the last 10 years (with 2 million air bag deployment car crashes) over 340,000 people would have suffered permanent hearing loss of some degree. The damage consists of ruptured air drums, dislocation of the delicate bones of the middle ear and major inner ear damage. This can result in hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in ears) and vertigo (dizziness).

Steps to Take After an Accident
If someone is involved in an auto accident or truck accident with an air bag deployment, it is imperative to have their ears checked. An Ortholaryngologist is an ear, nose and throat doctor that can perform an audiogram and a otoacoustic emissions test. Keep in mind that these tests should be performed within 72 hours after an accident to determine if hearing loss has occurred. An audiogram tests basic hearing levels and compares them to a norm, while an otoacoustic emission tests the function of the cochlea which is the auditory portion of the inner ear.


If you or someone you love has been involved in a car crash or truck crash that resulted in air bag deployment, it is important to have your hearing checked for any abnormalities. If you have ringing in your ears or experience dizziness, remember to seek immediate medical attention and know that you can always call an attorney for further help. Rue & Ziffra, P.A. is a Florida personal injury law firm with a team of auto accident attorneys. They have over 25 years of experience handling cases for accident victims and are available to answer any questions you may have during your free consultation. For more information, please visit the Rue & Ziffra, P.A. website or contact the firm by phone.

Rue & Ziffra, P.A., proudly serves areas throughout Volusia County and Flagler County, Florida, including, Port Orange, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, DeLand, Deltona, Bunnell, Orange City, Sanford, Orlando and Leesburg.

The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra, P.A. and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.

4 comments:

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