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How crashworthy is your vehicle?

When it comes to buying a vehicle, some research suggests that what reviewers think is more important to consumers than anything else. One recent study reports that of about 2,200 respondents queried, 60 percent said they would be more inclined to look at a vehicle based on reviewer reactions. The next most important factor was safety ratings.

Crashworthiness might not spring to mind as being important, but those with experience in personal injury law know it can be a crucial area to explore after any crash. If a vehicle is unsafe by virtue of bad design or negligent manufacturing, potential liability for any injury expands beyond the driver that caused the crash to vehicle manufacturers.

From a legal perspective, it's important for readers to know that claims based on crashworthiness are typically handled separately from injury claims caused by the crash itself. In fact, where vehicle defects are alleged, the cause of the crash is often irrelevant.

The purpose of crash safety design is to minimize injuries to vehicle occupants from so-called "second collision" effects, those suffered in the aftermath of the crash from impacts with the steering wheel, dashboard or other interior elements.

Driver and front passenger air bags have been standard equipment in cars and light trucks since 1998. These devices are meant to cushion occupants from second collision injuries.

In the early days, some experts questioned whether the bags posed a threat of more harm than good, but such questions faded. Then came the Takata air bag recall.

It began in 2015 and is still underway today. Tens of millions of cars and light trucks of various makes and models dating back to the early 2000s are affected. The problem is that as the devices have aged, chemical inflation systems have become unstable. They can explode with so much force that metal shrapnel hurtles into the passenger compartment causing injury and death.

Sadly, as recently as a few months ago, federal regulators reported too many of the unsafe vehicles remain on the road.

Owners of affected vehicles should find out if they might be eligible for free recall repairs by manufacturers by visiting NHTSA.gov/recalls and following the instructions there.

But, in any case, if you've been injured in a crash in which possible device defect is a concern, consult with an attorney to learn your options.

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