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Federal requirements for the use of air bags in automobiles have been the source of much political and scientific debate for more than 30 years. Recent reports of five known fatalities due to catastrophic airbag failures is the latest controversy to affect a mainstay feature in the constellation of onboard safety systems.

The gory details of these airbag failures ignited a news-media frenzy and federal government intervention. In these fatalities, the airbag safety system’s pyrotechnic inflator detonated so violently that the explosive’s metal container actually ruptured and shot metal shards toward the vehicle occupant. However, these five known incidents attracted much more attention than the larger number of deaths and injuries that are attributable to air bags that function properly.

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