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ConsumerWatch: Driver Says Ford Flaw Caused Dangerous Airbag Deployment

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The airbag in Chelsea Petagara's car (CBS)

The airbag in Chelsea Petagara’s car (CBS)

(CBS 5) – A young East Bay driver says she got the scare of her life when the airbags in her 2001 Ford Focus suddenly deployed for no apparent reason as she was exiting a parking lot at ten miles at hour.

“I saw white and I didn’t know what happened at first,” Chelsea Petagara told ConsumerWatch. The teen said the impact left her with a burn on her chest, and bruises on her legs. The sudden deployment also cracked the car’s windshield.

Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, said unexpected airbag deployments in the Ford Focus are nothing new.

“The bottom line is that the 2000 and 2001 clearly had an airbag problem in the early days,” Ditlow said.

Back in 2002, the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into the problem after reports of more than 300 complaints about unwarranted airbag deployments in 2000 and 2001 models. NHTSA closed the investigation stating no recall was warranted, because it determined in more than half the cases the drivers had hit something.

Ditlow said he believes it was the wrong call. “If there’s not a serious crash, the airbag should not deploy.”

Ford says it is investigating what happened to Chelsea’s car.

Consumer lawyer Taras Rudnitsky said Ford addressed the airbag concerns in the 2002 model with a software change.

A change, that apparently helped. Rudnitsky said complaints about unwarranted deployments decreased dramatically after 2002. But earlier models remain a concern, at least for Chelsea’s mother. She said owners, and in particular, young drivers, “need to be careful. They need to know that this is a potential problem.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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