Ministers launch inquiry after two killed by airbags

Safety of airbags in car crashes to be investigated

An inquiry into the risks caused by airbags in cars is to be launched by the Government after two British women were killed by the safety devices.

An inquiry into the risks caused by airbags in cars is to be launched by the Government after two British women were killed by the safety devices.

The study, to begin next year, will try to see what difference seatbelts make when airbags are deployed in a crash. Although there is a huge amount of data about the effects of airbags from crashes in the US, most of it relates to people who were not wearing seatbelts. The wearing of seatbelts is not compulsory in many US states, but since 1991 manufacturers have been obliged to fit airbags to all new cars.

The British experience of airbags has been minimal because it is not compulsory for manufacturers to fit them. But there have been at least two cases where motorists have died after airbags inflated.

Jennifer Reichardt, 47, from Liverpool, was involved in a head-on crash in January 1998 and died from injuries caused when the airbag inflated, an inquest was told. Ten months later, Christalla Sergi, 69, was fatally injured when the airbag of her Vauxhall Corsa inflated in an accident on the driveway of her son's home in the Wirral. Ms Reichardt was wearing a seatbelt, but Ms Sergi was not. Evidence given at both inquests indicated that the women were sitting close to the steering wheel, and this may have been the reason they died.

Driver-side airbags are normally stored in the steering wheel. They are set off by systems that detect sudden stops: these release an explosive gas, which expands the airbag at up to 200mph. The impact can be dangerous for people who sit very close to the wheel, or whose head is below the main part of the bag. Children and small adults have been killed in the US by the inflation. Babies in backward-facing child seats can also be endangered bypassenger-side airbags.

Announcing the safety inquiry, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) said: "There is no adequate information at present in this country about whether airbags have contributed to safety or to deaths."

A spokesman for the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders said: "People should not sit within the deployment area of the airbag. But at the end of the day airbags save many lives and it is more important to have one than not."

George Reichardt, father of one of the British women who died when airbags inflated, said: "Jenny was unlucky because she was right beneath the wheel as she was so small. Airbags can be a death threat and a life saver so changes do need to be made."

The DETR's director for road safety, John Ploughman, said: "Our engineers and administrators have looked very carefully at both cases which have been brought to our attention. We will certainly want to draw the attention of the researchers to these two particular cases because they raise very important questions."

In America, there have been about 15 million cases where airbags have deployed. They are reckoned to have saved about 4,000 lives, but they are also thought to have directly caused about 60 deaths, including more than 30 children.

In Europe, airbags are fitted to an estimated 20 per cent of the continent's 22 million cars.A study in 1999 by researchers at the Whittington Hospital in north London analysed 50 airbag-related injuries in Europe and North America. They found evidence of eye damage caused by the alkaline chemicals used to inflate the bags, dislocation of upper limbs, broken arms and spines, smashed rib cages and pierced lungs.

The study, published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, found that two adult drivers killed when their airbags inflated after low-speed crashes would probably have been saved by their seatbelts. Eight children, who would probably have been saved by seatbelts, also died after airbags inflated.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business StudiesTeacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Bu...

***Are you a Support Worker? or a Youth Worker? ***

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The RoleDue to demand we are cu...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

ICT Teacher - NQTs encouraged to apply

£110 - £130 per day + TBC : Randstad Education Reading: ICT Teacher needed up ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past