Airbags are, together with the three-point belt, the most effective passive safety equipment of vehicles. However, literature shows that sound pressure levels of up to 170 dB can occur during airbag deployment. A literature review revealed no systematic experimental data on possible hearing loss by airbag deployment, that also takes any other crash accompanied noise into account, such as deformation and impact noise. Also the rising number of airbags per vehicle resulting in a higher number of deployed airbags in an accident was not addressed with respect to hearing loss. Thus, an extensive test matrix of noise measurements during airbag deployments was conducted including onboard measuring during crashes and static measurements. Dynamic and static experiments with single and multiple airbag deployments were conducted. The results of this study show, that in the analyzed crash constellations the acoustic emission of the collision as well as the car deformation can trigger the stapedius reflex before the airbag deployment. The stapedius reflex protects the inner ear at least partially in case of dangerous sound levels. However, it seems that multiple airbag deployments in a short sequence pose a considerable risk for hearing impairments despite the fully contracted stapedius muscle. Further and in line with Price et al. (2013) it was found that the risk of hearing loss is lower with closed windows. The analysis of patient and accident data showed no link between airbag deployment and hearing loss. This might be caused by low case numbers of reported hearing loss problems up to now.
In conclusion the results show that a singular analysis of the sound pressure of airbag deployments without crash accompanied noises is not sufficient as the protective effect of the stapedius reflex is neglected. Still, successive airbag deployments in a short timeframe raise the risk of hearing loss. Further investigation on hearing impairment due to airbag deployment and triggering of the stapedius reflex is needed and the data acquisition of accidents and patients should consider hearing loss aspects.