Air Bag May Have Killed Driver, Autopsy Reports

Friday, March 31, 2000

Written by Desmond Brown
National Post

TORONTO – A woman killed in a minor fender-bender died from injuries likely caused by the deployment of an air bag, an autopsy shows.

Karol Steinhouse, 47, a professor in the school of social work at Ryerson University, sustained a severed aorta and six broken ribs after her 2000 Acura was rear-ended on Wednesday morning.

The driver’s side air bag deployed when the impact from the collision caused Mrs. Steinhouse’s car to bump into the stopped car in front of her.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Transport Canada has launched an investigation and has been in touch with Honda, the manufacturer of the Acura.

“At this time, the cause of death has not been officially determined,” said Nicole Pageot, director general of road safety for Transport Canada. “We want to get the specific specification of the type of air bag that was installed.”

Since the introduction of air bags in Canada in 1993, there have been only six fatalities caused by deployment and none since 1997.

The older designs shoot out at a rate of 300 kilometres per hour, but since 1997, manufacturers have de-powered the devices to 210 kilometres per hour.

However, over the past six months, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 72 adults and 84 children died from the deployment of air bags.

People likely died because they were sitting too close to the steering wheel or dashboard, Ms. Pageot said.

As well, the higher fatalities in the U.S. can be traced directly to the use of seatbelts, where only 65% of passengers wear them compared with 92% in Canada, said Ms. Pageot.

Toronto police said Ms. Steinhouse was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.