Smart Airbags? Safety Advocate Claims Chevy Impala Has Faulty Airbag Sensors

2010 Chevrolet Impala LTZ

A safety watchdog group says General Motors has more airbag problems beyond its recent recalls and is chiding the feds for not following up on its petition for a formal investigation.

The Center for Auto Safety, the same Ralph Nader–backed group that campaigned against the exploding Ford Pinto and faulty Firestone tires, says GM’s passenger frontal airbag sensors may give incorrect readings on 2003–2010 Chevrolet Impalas. The group says it counted 143 deaths from federal crash records of drivers and front-seat passengers—98 of which were wearing seatbelts—where the frontal airbags did not deploy in Impalas from 2000 through 2010.

According to a letter sent Monday to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, CAS claims the passenger-side weight sensor has a “flawed algorithm” that can mislabel an adult as a child or small adult due to the car lifting and bouncing on the road. GM, the CAS says, “used the instantaneous weight” to determine if the airbag should be activated instead of taking an average over a longer amount of time. So-called “smart airbags”—which can deploy at lower speeds to better match the severity of an accident—have been required on most every new car sold in the U.S. since 2003 after nearly 300 people had died from airbag injuries. The group counted models before 2003 because GM may have used smart airbag sensors before the federal requirement, the letter said.

The CAS said it does not have proper data for any of the crashes to show why the airbags didn’t deploy. The group was behind a study last month that alleged airbag non-deployment had led to 303 deaths in Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models, both of which are involved in GM’s controversial ignition-switch recall.

Instrumented Test: 2014 Chevrolet Impala 3.6L V-6
Instrumented Test: 2007 Chevrolet Impala LTZ
Instrumented Test: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu Ecotec 2.5

Automakers have run into trouble with airbag sensors on many occasions. Last month, GM recalled 1.18 million late-model SUVs for side airbags that might not deploy and Nissan recalled more than 1 million cars for faulty passenger airbag sensors. Last year, more than 5.6 million cars were recalled for airbag problems, including electrical or sensor faults that could either disable or inadvertently deploy airbags.

About Clifford Atiyeh