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Driving and Airbag Safety

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 22 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
Driving Airbag Safety Car Seat Belt

Airbags were invented in the 1950s and were designed to prevent drivers and passengers from suffering head injuries during a car crash. However, the speed at which airbags are deployed means that they can also cause injuries.

How Do Airbags Work?

After a collision or impact, it takes just one twentieth of a second for an airbag to fill with gas and inflate. The airbag then absorbs some of the forces of the crash and helps to distribute these forces more evenly across the passenger’s body.

After the bag absorbs the impact the gas slowly escapes through small ventilation holes. Airbags can only inflate once and do not offer any protection against any secondary impact. Seat belts are effective in ensuring that the passenger remains in the best position to be protected by the deployment of the airbag.

The Downside of Airbags

Airbags are believed to have prevented thousands of deaths since their widespread adoption as standard for cars in the 1990s. Car crash victims do, however, still suffer from injuries caused by the impact of the airbag, including hearing damage, eye damage (particularly among victims wearing glasses) and broken noses are commonplace.

Common Concerns Associated with Airbags

There are some important points to consider regarding child seats and airbags. For example, a rear-facing child seat should not be used on the front passenger seat of any vehicle if there is a passenger airbag fitted. This is because the child seat will project into the airbag’s deployment zone, so if the airbag is triggered it will strike the child seat and propel it at speed towards the back of the vehicle.

Forward-facing child seats carry a similar risk of impinging on the child, for example if the seat is positioned too far forward in the car or has not been fitted securely.

In order to prevent this occurring, parents should try to fit the seat securely, and outside of the deployment zone of the airbag. This means fitting child seats only in the back of the car, not the front passenger seat, and making sure that they are clear of any airbags positioned on the sides of the vehicle. You should check the owner’s manual of the vehicle to determine the size of the airbag deployment zone.

Driver Positioning

Airbags are designed to work by protecting the driver and passengers when sitting in what is known as the ‘optimum’ driving position. Therefore, if the driver or passenger is not in this position when the bag deploys, it poses them a serious health risk.

You should therefore make sure that nothing impedes the deployment of the airbag. This means making sure that drivers are sat in the best possible driving position, and that passengers keep their arms and legs in line with the windscreen and avoid turning their body to talk to passengers in the back of the car.

Concerns for Pregnant Women

Airbag safety has been a topic of debate for several years and particularly concerning the risk towards pregnant women. Anecdotal evidence suggests that airbags have, in some instances, protected the pregnant women from any serious crash-related injury, but have been a contributing factor in the loss of the unborn child.

While this evidence remains anecdotal, pregnant women should make sure that if they are sitting in a position whereby their car seat is as far back as possible, to make sure that they are taken out of the air bag deployment zone.

Should I Disconnect My Airbags?

Many car owners, concerned at the evidence of airbag related injuries have questioned their use and in some instances had their airbags disconnected. This should always be considered as the absolutely last resort. Disconnection means that the protection offered by the airbag is lost and in the case of an accident it could lead to the non-payment of your insurance policy.

Some car manufactures have started to include an airbag disconnection switch that allows for the bag to be turned on or off. By using this switch the owner of the vehicle is accepting the responsibility of any injury to passengers as a result of the airbag not deploying, so it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

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