Can air bags have the potential to be dangerous? If you mean capable of causing injury or even death then yes, they are. However, when properly used in combination with seat belts they do save lives. There are a number of reports including this one by the NHTSA that confirm this.
Air bag Safety Starts With Understanding their Awesome Power
The danger is their speed of inflation. Accidents happen in miliseconds so in order to be effective airbags deploy at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. This intense speed doesn’t present a danger as long as the airbag is deployed before the passenger comes into contact with it. However, if the passenger isn’t properly seat belted, hard braking before the collision can bring him within striking range of the airbag before it inflates, and this could cause injury.
Air bags do not use compressed air because there are a number of technical difficulties surrounding compressed air cylinders. These include its bulky size, the ability to hold compressed air for the lifetime of the car, and the difficulty of releasing air into the bag quickly enough. Instead, airbags use a chemical reaction to create a rapidly expanding gas. In other words, a chemical explosive is used to inflate the bag. The inflation is loud and instantaneous.
The development of air bag explosives comes from chemicals used in rocket fuel. Dr. Ivan Mendenhall, a formulation chemist at Autoliv a leader in air bag technology stated that many of the scientists who develop these explosive come from this industry.
Below demonstrates the speed of deployment which demonstrates the proves the dangers of air bags. Inflation speed is so fast you can’t see it.
Depiction of air bags in the movies is similar to what you see below. The Naked Gun uses weather balloons that take over 10 seconds to inflate. You may not realize it but movies influence thinking and broadcasting the wrong message is detrimental to the general public. The power of air bags must not treated as if it’s a pillow that unfolds to protect you. To witness an example of air bag power watch how one throws this 190 pound man over eight feet in the air. DON’T attempt this. Some folks have fractured their spines trying this ridiculous stunt. Back injuries don’t heal.
As you can plainly see by the first video, the power of air bags must be respected. If you fail to respect the following rules below you’ll end up getting hurt by the accident and by the air bag (warning graphic photos).
Air bags Are Larger and More Dangerous In The US
Statistically, US citizens don’t wear seat belts like other countries. Air bags are built larger to accommodate this trend. Unfortunately, they are a bit more dangerous because of their increased size. Our larger air bags require proper seat belt usage. Never place the shoulder strap behind you. There should be no excess slack in the seat belt or shoulder strap. The seat belt is designed to anchor your torso and head. If you fail to use the shoulder strap, your head will move close to the steering column and into the inflation range of the air bag. A 200 mile per hour piece of fabric whipped into your face will not be something you’ll forget.
Sit The Wrong Way and You’ll Get Twisted Into A Pretzel
Make sure you sit at a safe distance from the airbag. Adjust your seat so that there are 10 to 12 inches of clearance between you and the steering wheel. Also, if your sitting in the passenger seat, don’t cross you legs. If the bag blows, your crossed leg will be blown towards your hip. You’ll be very seriously injured. Below is a excerpt from a Reddit that discusses this fact as described by a French Canadian border agent.
True story: I was riding back into Canada via Quebec and we were stopped at the border, I was sitting in the passenger seat. The French Canadian border guard decided to question my friend and I thoroughly on whether or not we have any weapons!?!? It seemed strange, but customs people tend to pick something to grill you on when they feel like it. Anyhow, after convincing him we weren’t carrying any AK47’s, he proceeded to warn me about how I was sitting, one leg crossed over the other. He said, “man, you gotta be careful sitting like that, if the air bags goes off, human pretzel! I’ve seen it in person!”
As much as I sometimes dislike border guards, I’ve heeded his warning and cross my legs less in the passenger seat. (story posted in 2013)
Incorrect Hand Placement and Logo Tattoos.
The 10 and 2 o’clock position is no longer recommended because the airbag can fling the arms into the A-pillar (the side border of the windshield) and rearview mirror. Never drive with one hand at the top of the wheel because your arm will be thrown against your face. Improper hand placement also risks arm and wrist fractures. The recommended hand placement is the 9 and 3 o’clock position. As you can see by this poor driver, the logo on the steering wheel was painfully smacked into their hand. Air bag tattoos occur quite often in accidents.
Below is an excerpt from slashdot.org. The user explains what happened after driving with their hands in the 12:00 position.
I was driving like that when I got in to an accident. The air bag threw my hand up into the windshield hard enough for it to punch a hole in the windshield.
Fortunately, there wasn’t too much damage to my hand, but a decade later, the scar on the back of my hand is still evident.
I no longer drive with a hand at the 12:00 position. It’s 3:00 and 9:00 for me.
Children Must Not Sit In The Front Seat – PERIOD
Airbags can be especially hazardous to children. Children aged 12 or under must be seated in the rear seat with their seat belts on. Rear-facing safety seats for infants should never be installed in the front seat. Consider looking into an airbag on off switch if you must have a child up front, otherwise don’t do it.
Keep Hands, Feet, And Objects Off The Instrument Panel
The instrument panel is not a foot rest or a shelf. When the airbag inflates, legs can get broken, and objects (warning photo link is graphic!) on the instrument panel can turn into high speed projectiles. Your hands also can become projectiles.
Air bag Safety Starts With Awareness – This Holds True For Side Airbags
During long trips, it is tempting to shift your body position by leaning against the door, using it as an armrest, or sleeping with your head against it. This adjusted body placement may cause serious neck injury if the side airbag deploys in an accident.
As you can see from the above, reducing the danger of airbags will require a good deal of public education. Another difficulty with airbags is that they are designed for people with an average build. Drivers of short or small stature tend to sit closer to the steering wheel which increases their likelihood of being struck by an airbag while it’s inflating.
Safe airbag use is complicated. However, the consensus is that they do help with accident survival. The benefits still outweigh the dangers of a car accident. We only ask that you respect them.
Air Bag Safety Tips From The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Below is a list of quick tips that you should consider for air bag safety.
- Airbags don’t replace seat belts. Without them, airbag safety becomes compromised.
- The elderly and small children (including infants) must never ride in the front seat. These two groups are at higher risks of serious injury with air bags. This danger increases if they fail to wear seat belts. Delaware state law states that children under 12 years old MUST sit in the back.
- If you’re driving the car, put your seat as far away from the bag as long as it remains comfortable. A 10 inch space requirement is best for maximum air bag safety.
- You increase the level of air bag safety by 85% if you simply wear the shoulder harness and lap belt while in the front seat.
- The NHTSA says that the only reason for turning off your air bags is if you child MUST sit up front or if your doctor suggest doing it for medical reasons. Air bag safety air bag safety air bag safety Air bag safety air bag safety air bag safety
The Future Air Bag Safety
Driver injury is on a yearly decline due to superior structural design and new air bag technology. Below is a list of air bag tech that’s soon to be mainstream.
- Serious neck and head injury occurs when a car hits your car from the side. The impact throws your head sideways. A new technology from GM allows for a front center air bag to be deployed.
- Ford has developed a inflatable air bag safety seat belt.
- A company called Autoliv (premier automotive safety company on the planet) has developed a knee air bag system. That are smaller in size and are placed in the footwell in the front seats.
- Volvo has developed exterior pedestrian air bags that deploy when a pedestrian is hit head on. Check out this video to see it in action.
We would love to hear you opinion on the use of air bags. Have they saved your life? What happened? Reply below and let us know.