Air Bag Safety

Air bags save lives. They work best when everyone is buckled and children are properly restrained in the back seat. Children riding in the front seat can be seriously injured or killed when an air bag comes out in a crash. An air bag is not a soft, billowy pillow. To do its important job, an air bag comes out of the dashboard at up to 200 miles per hour - faster than the blink of an eye. The force of an air bag can hurt those who are too close to it. Drivers can prevent air bag-related injuries to adults and children by following critical safety points.

Since the risk zone for driver air bags is the first 2-3 inches of inflation, placing yourself 10 inches from your driver air bag provides you with a clear margin of safety. This distance is measured from the center of the steering wheel to your breastbone. If you now sit less than 10 inches away, you can change your driving position in several ways:

  • Driver and front passenger seats should be moved as far back as practical, particularly for shorter stature people (under 5'5').
  • Slightly recline the back of the seat. Although vehicle designs vary, many drivers can achieve the 10-inch distance, even with the driver seat all the way forward, simply by reclining the back of the seat somewhat.
  • Drivers who cannot get back 10 inches. Very few drivers are unable to sit so that their breastbone is 10 inches away from their air bag. If you cannot maintain a distance of 10 inches, you may wish to consult your dealer or vehicle manufacturer for advice or modifications to help you move back.
  • If your steering wheel is adjustable, tilt it downward; this points the air bag toward you chest instead of your head and neck.
  • Infants in rear facing child safety seats should NEVER ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side air bag. As it opens, the air bag may exert too much force on the safety seat, knocking it out of position and injuring or killing the child.
  • Children 12 and under should ride buckled up in a rear seat.
  • Everyone should buckle up with both lap AND shoulder belts on every trip.

To the extent possible, the driver should hold the steering wheel from the sides so that his or her arms aren't between the driver and the air bag. This position, will allow the bag to deploy and cause the least amount of injury.

All new vehicles feature air bags. Designed primarily for frontal or head-on crashes, they give supplemental protection to front-seat occupants wearing lap/shoulder belts. When combined with safety belts, air bags absorb crash forces, greatly reducing the chance of injuries to the face, head, neck and chest - those most likely to result in death.

The combination lap/shoulder safety belts and air bags is the most effective safety system available for occupants of passenger vehicles, and it is 75 percent effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66 percent effective in preventing serious chest injuries (NHTSA).

The National Highway Traffic safety Administration reminds consumers that air bags have saved 1,100 lives from 1986 to 1995. As of December 1998, air bags inflated in more than 3.3 million vehicles in crashes.