A 59-year-old marine engineer from the UK died after a small car crash that saw the airbag in his Vauxhall Insignia deploy and puncture resulting in noxious gases being inhaled by the victim.
An inquest heard that Ronald Smith from Marsden in South Shields inhaled a quantity of the airbag chemical cocktail of sodium azide and nitrogen when he was involved in a six-car pile-up in November 2010 where he received no injuries. While the airbag itself did not fail, a stray fragment of glass caused a puncture that freed the gases.
After developing a cough and shortness of breath, Smith was admitted to hospital in January 2011 and placed on a ventilator before he died three weeks later of bronchial pneumonia.
The Huffington Post reports that South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney concluded Smith’s death was a case of “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.”
While Vauxhall is said to be investigating the incident, the death is believed to be the first case where a driver has died as a result of inhaling the airbag chemicals that are used industry wide.
Without the chemical reaction of sodium azide and heat releasing nitrogen gas, airbags would not inflate in 30 milliseconds.