In mid-November 2010 Ron Smith, a Scottish engineer from South Bents in northern England, was involved in a six-car accident. The airbag in his Vauxhall Insignia deployed and it appeared he had survived the crash without suffering any serious injuries.
However, during the impact the airbag was cut open by a slice of glass and some white powder was expelled and subsequently inhaled by Smith. Soon after, he began suffering from shortness of breath and coughing fits.
His wife explained: “We used to walk everywhere and he was always out every night with the dog, but he got so bad that he couldn’t even walk a few steps without my help.”
Smith was admitted to hospital on 5 January 2011, where he was given a chest x-ray and placed in intensive care. Mr Smith, aged 59, died on 31 January 2011, just over two months from the original accident.
An inquest into Mr Smith’s death took place and South Tyneside Coroner Terence Carney declared: “I accept that the death was attributed to bronchial pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis and that it was developed after this incident in November, and the deceased’s exposure to noxious substances.
“This man died as a result of this incident and more pointedly because of the explosion of his airbag, and this death should be recorded as misadventure.”
It’s believed to be the first documented case of a person dying from the inhalation of chemicals discharged from an airbag.
An airbag exploding is quite a violent procedure and is set off when sodium azide is heated to release nitrogen gas. Sodium azide is very toxic, but is mixed with other chemicals to lessen its effect. Looks like car manufacturers may need to go back to the drawing board.