British man dies after exploding airbag exposes him to deadly fumes

British man dies after exploding airbag exposes him to deadly fumes

A British man has died from bronchial pneumonia caused by an overexposure to “noxious substances” after his airbag exploded during a six-car accident back in November 2010, reports the Huffington Post.

Ron Smith, a marine engineer from Marsden, South Shields was initially able to escape the incident with only minor injuries, but only after his airbag was sliced open by a glass fragment causing him to inhale harmful fumes found within his car’s airbag.

Although Smith managed to walk away physically uninjured from the crash, he later reported suffering from random coughing fits as well as increased breathlessness when undergoing even light physical activity. Clearly worried about his health, Smith checked into South Tyneside Hospital where he was placed on a ventilator. Three weeks after being admitted to the hospital, he died.

According to the reports, at the time of the accident, Smith had been driving a Vauxhall Insignia. Although it was initially unclear as to what was causing Smith’s rapidly declining health, the official verdict from the hospital coroner was labeled as “misadventure,” saying: “this man died as a result of this incident [the car crash] and more pointedly because of the explosion of the airbag and exposure to noxious substances.”

Current airbag technology is based on a chemical reaction involving sodium azide — a very toxic substance — which when heated releases nitrogen gas and inflates the bag. Although the chemical is known to be very toxic, it is mixed with other elements to reduce potential harmful effects. Moreover, the chemical reaction that occurs causing the bag to inflate takes precisely 30 milliseconds to complete.

Although it is believed that Smith’s tragic death is the first time a driver has died from inhaling chemicals found inside an automotive airbag, it could  bring into question the current standards used as well as provide enough impetus for automakers to reevaluate  existing airbag technology.