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Drivers, insurers, manufacturers at odds over unwanted airbag deployments

By SmartCoverage Team on November 27th, 2017

Airbags are deploying against drivers' wills and no one wants to take responsibility for it.

That is the takeaway from CBC's latest Go Public investigation, which took a deep dive into what happens when airbags become more of a life-endangerer than a life-saver. The central subjects of the investigation are the members of the Yukes family, who were driving their 2006 Honda Odyssey EX through open space on Thanksgiving Day when, all of a sudden, the vehicle's side airbags went off for no reason beyond the fact that the road was gravelly—the second time in three years that had happened.

Thankfully the Yukes were driving on a flat and relatively empty road, so they didn't risk crashing into other cars or a ditch. However, both of them incurred some physical damages as a result of the deployment.

"We sat there for some time just kind of taking into account what had happened. [My husband] Rick was sitting in the passenger seat—his shoulder was very sore, my head was sore, my ear was ringing terrible" said Joanne Yukes, who was driving at the time, and whose sister-in-law sustained a large abdominal bruise.

Honda replaced the airbags after the first incident in 2015 as a "goodwill gesture," but has been unaccommodating this time around, citing both modifications to the vehicle and the fact that the bags were triggered by the gravel. Insurance companies don't assume responsibility in this situation either, since there is no collision to point to. So the Yukes are left paying for a phenomenon that should really be considered a defect.

"Clearly [the airbags] are not meant to deploy like that," said accident reconstruction expert Peter Keith. "They are only meant to deploy if you're having a front collision, a side collision, a rollover, that was not the circumstances which happened with them driving straight down a gravel road."

The Yukes are hardly alone in this situation. Drivers of GMs, Mercedes-Benz, Nissans, Fiat Chryslers and other brands have all filed similar complaints in recent years, sometimes leading to recalls or suits. Perhaps the 2006 Odyssey EX will be next.

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