Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Mar 14, 2022

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Key Takeaways

  • Most airbags are set to deploy when a car hits something, like a brick wall, traveling 10 to 15 miles per hour
  • Airbags can deploy if your car is sitting still
  • It is likely that your car will be declared a total loss if the airbags deploy

If you ever become involved in a car accident, there’s a chance that your airbags could deploy. When that happens, the incident will typically be considered a violent impact. Airbags work alongside seatbelts to restrain your body, to soften the impact of the crash, and to prevent you from hitting something, such as the dash or steering wheel.

Typically, front airbags will deploy if you are involved in a head-on collision, and side airbags will deploy if you have any side impact. Virtually all vehicles have front airbags, but whether or not your car has side airbags will depend on the make, model, and year of the vehicle.

Once your airbags deploy, there’s a chance that your car may be considered a total loss. When that happens, you will need to work with your car insurance company to determine what you will receive for a settlement, depending on the type of insurance coverage you have.

How do airbags work?

When you are involved in an auto accident, airbags protect you by slowing your forward motion as evenly as possible in just a fraction of a second. The minimum speed for airbag deployment is approximately 10 to 15 miles per hour. Airbags would only deploy at this speed if the force were strong enough, essentially the equivalent of running into a brick wall.

The speed at which airbags deploy in a side collision and the speed at which airbags deploy in a front-end collision will vary, depending on both the force and the speed of the crash.

Most airbag statistics suggest that the mechanical switch controlling both front and side airbags is flipped when there is a shift of mass significant enough to close the electrical contact. Once this happens, sensors controlling the airbags receive information from a microchip.

Once the sensors receive this information, the airbags — which are made of a thin nylon fabric that is folded into the steering wheel or dashboard — will deploy in less than a second.

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Do airbags deploy when a car is not moving?

If your car is not moving, but it receives enough impact, the airbags in your car can still deploy. This indicates that if you’re sitting at a traffic light and your engine is running, the airbags in your vehicle will be powered and ready to deploy if someone runs into you.

Most airbags remain engaged through stored battery power for at least a few minutes after the vehicle is turned off, which may protect you in a parking lot or garage if someone hits you traveling several miles per hour.

What happens once my airbags deploy?

When your airbags deploy, the most important thing to do is to ensure that you and anyone else in your vehicle are okay. You can call 9-1-1 to report an accident, but be sure to remove yourself from the vehicle if it is safe to do so.

After law enforcement assesses your accident, you will need to contact an agent affiliated with your insurance company to inform them of what happened. They may request that you take pictures of the accident, and they will likely also ask for a copy of the police report.

Most people wonder whether their car will automatically be deemed totaled if the airbags in their vehicle deploy. While it is fairly common for something like this to be considered a total loss, it’s not automatically certain.

When is a car declared a total loss?

If the cost to repair your vehicle would be more than your vehicle’s actual cash value, your car will be declared a total loss. Often, airbags deploy as a result of a high-impact crash, which causes extensive damage throughout a vehicle. If this type of accident is what caused your airbags to deploy, there’s a good chance that your car will be deemed totaled.

Once your car is declared a total loss, it’s your responsibility to discuss options with your insurance company in terms of an auto insurance payout. If you are only carrying liability coverage, you may receive a payout from the insurance company for anyone who was considered at fault in the accident. But your insurance company will not be required to cover your vehicle.

However, if you carry collision coverage, you can expect to receive a payment from your insurance company to compensate the worth of your vehicle.

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What type of insurance is best if my airbags deploy?

If you are in a car accident, the best type of coverage will be a full coverage policy that includes liability, collision, and comprehensive auto insurance.

Your state only requires a certain liability limit to drive legally, but this type of coverage will not help you if you’re the one considered at fault in the incident.

The table below discloses average car insurance rates in each U.S. state based on coverage type.

Average Monthly Car Insurance Rates by Coverage Type and State
StatesAverage Monthly Liability RatesAverage Monthly Collision RatesAverage Monthly Comprehensive RatesAverage Monthly Full Coverage Rates
Alabama$37$28$14$79
Alaska$47$31$12$90
Arizona$48$25$16$89
Arkansas$36$29$17$82
California$45$36$8$88
Colorado$49$25$17$91
Connecticut$59$32$11$102
Delaware$69$28$11$107
District of Columbia$58$41$19$118
Florida$76$26$11$113
Georgia$55$30$14$98
Hawaii$39$27$9$75
Idaho$32$20$10$62
Illinois$40$27$11$77
Indiana$34$22$11$67
Iowa$27$19$16$62
Kansas$32$23$21$76
Kentucky$47$24$12$83
Louisiana$73$37$19$128
Maine$30$23$9$62
Maryland$55$31$13$100
Massachusetts$52$34$12$98
Michigan$72$37$13$121
Minnesota$39$20$16$76
Mississippi$41$29$18$88
Missouri$38$24$16$79
Montana$34$23$21$77
Nebraska$33$21$20$74
Nevada$64$27$10$100
New Hampshire$35$26$9$70
New Jersey$76$33$11$119
New Mexico$44$24$15$84
New York$71$34$15$120
North Carolina$31$26$11$67
North Dakota$25$22$20$67
Ohio$35$24$10$69
Oklahoma$40$27$20$88
Oregon$53$20$8$81
Pennsylvania$43$29$13$85
Rhode Island$68$36$11$116
South Carolina$50$24$16$89
South Dakota$26$19$24$69
Tennessee$37$27$13$77
Texas$49$33$19$101
Utah$45$23$10$78
Vermont$30$26$11$68
Virginia$38$25$12$74
Washington$53$24$9$86
West Virginia$43$28$18$88
Wisconsin$33$20$12$65
Wyoming$29$24$23$75
Countrywide$48$29$13$90
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If you can afford the monthly premiums for a full coverage policy, it will offer you the most protection, whether you’re in a car accident or your vehicle is vandalized or damaged by inclement weather.

You can always shop around with different insurance companies to find the best auto insurance rates in your area. Be sure to compare quotes from multiple companies at once to determine who offers the kind of coverage you want at an affordable price.