NHTSA itself confused about the way airbags work

There might actually be a bit of a silver lining to General Motors' ignition switch recall of 2.6 million cars. In the end, it may mean safer vehicles on the road from every automaker. The debacle has shined a light on how little the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actually understands about airbags and their deployment. The regulator is now working to change that, and it's investigating how to make the devices even safer.

In its Congressional testimony, NHTSA said that it believed the General Motors recalled vehicles had 60 seconds of power for the airbags after their ignition switches were turned off, according to The Detroit News. The automaker has denied this – its own research has found that the bags will only work for about 150 milliseconds after the ignition has been moved from the run position.

This discrepancy between GM and NHTSA investigations may lead to major improvements in how airbags work. The regulator has begun surveying automakers and airbag suppliers to learn more about how ignition position affects activation, according to the report.

At the moment, these airbag activation parameters remain unregulated. While the pyrotechnic devices legally have to be in cars, automakers tune their deployment differently, depending on their own internal standards. NHTSA's analysis could eventually lead to new regulations determining whether these safety devices should continue to work for a period of time after a vehicle is shut off.

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