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Airbags - Making Sure they Save and Don't Take a Life

Updated on October 23, 2011

Deployed Airbags

Deployed Airbags
Deployed Airbags

The Purpose of Airbags

Almost all new cars are equipped with air bags designed to provide the driver and other occupants’ supplemental protection in frontal crashes. This protection can only be supplemental to the safety provided by seat belts and it must be emphasized that air bags are not meant to replace safety belts. They are designed to provide a cushion between the occupant and the dashboard, steering wheel, windshield and other surfaces in frontal crashes and in so doing should limit neck, chest and head injuries. In most circumstances they will provide the occupants with a much better chance of surviving frontal crashes and reduce the risk of suffering serious crash injuries.

Despite the fact that airbags boast a good overall safety record and have saved many lives the public must be made aware of the risks posed by airbags.


Airbags are Not Designed for Children

Most parents claim to always act in the best interests of their children, and most of us do. We take care to ensure that our young ones are kept out of harm’s way in and around the house. We fence in our swimming pools, keep firearms and hazardous substances out of their reach and generally ensure that our homes are a safe environment.

Why then do so many parents fail to take the same measure of precautions when their children travel in motor vehicles? Statistics show that a large percentage of children travel unrestrained.

If a child travelling in the front sea of a vehicle is incorrectly restrained, is too small for the seat belt to fit properly, or worse yet is completely unrestrained there is a very real danger that at the moment that the airbag inflates the child may be too close to the airbag and the impact of the airbag could cause serious, if not fatal injuries. Any unrestrained person, and even more so children, can be forcefully moved too close to the dashboard as a result of swerving and pre-crash braking.

Air bags are designed to provide protection to an average-sized adult by cushioning the head as it moves sideways or forward immediately after impact. Airbags are designed to deploy within five-tenths of a second after impact providing a cushion barrier between the occupant and any solid point of contact that could cause serious harm. The speeds at which airbags are deployed vary between 225 and 320 kilometers per hour which means that if the occupant is too close to the dashboard a minor 10mph crash can result in a 140mph head impact with the airbag.


Children Under 12 Years Should Travel in the Rear of a Motor Vehicle

Forward-facing convertible safety seats that are generally used for toddlers should never be placed on front seats as they place the child closer to the dashboard than the normal adult seating position. In other words, closer than a safe distance from a deploying airbag.

Rear-facing safety seats should never be used in the front seat of a vehicle and particularly in vehicles with passenger side airbags. During a frontal crash the deploying airbag could strike the safety seat which such force so as to cause death or serious injuries to the infant.

In most of the accidents where over 100 children have been killed by deployed airbags the children were riding in the front seat, either unrestrained or without wearing the shoulder portion of the safety belt or seated in a rear-facing child safety seat.

Children and Airbags

Safety Precautions with Airbags

The chances of sustaining injuries from the deployment of airbags will be greatly reduced if the front seats of the vehicle are positioned as far back as possible and the occupants not only fasten their seatbelts but ensure that they are properly adjusted to provide maximum restraint. The centre of the driver’s chest should be at least 25cm away from the steering wheel to allow sufficient space for the airbags to inflate.

Some vehicles offer the option of deactivating the passenger airbag when children are travelling in the front seat. Make sure that you do select this option in circumstances where it is unavoidable to transport a child on the front seat of your vehicle.


Faulty Airbags

During 2011 an alarming number of vehicles have been recalled due to airbag faults.

  • · 190,000 2007-2009 Hyundai Elantra sedans were recalled when it came to the manufacturer’s attention that the weight-sensing system, which is meant to prevent the deployment of the passenger airbag when a small child was seated in the passenger seat, was at risk of becoming faulty and causing the passenger airbag to deploy regardless of the weight of the passenger. Approximately 96,000 of these vehicles also required adjustments to the airbag system which could cause the driver’s side airbag to deploy when the driver’s seat was positioned in a particular way.
  • · Almost 400,000 2002 – 2003 Jeep Liberty SUV’s were recalled after several instances where airbags were deployed without any impact occurring. The unexpected inflation of the airbags poses a danger of severe injuries and an increase risk of collisions.
  • · 300,000 Chrysler Town & Country minivans were recalled in early August 2011 over the same type of problem when airbags were reported to have opened without cause. A failure in an air-conditioning drainage hose could cause moisture on the airbag control unit resulting in untimely deployment of airbags.
  • · Around 1.2million 2005-2006 Ford F150 pickups were recalled when it was found that a fault in the wiring inside the steering wheel was causing airbags to open for no apparent reason.
  • · Honda recalled 833,000 vehicles for airbag problems which cause the airbags to open with such force that the metal parts of the airbag assembly could blast through the airbag and cause serious injuries to the occupants. The vehicles at risk are those that had been refitted with airbags after an accident or repairs. This recall affects 2001 and 2002 Honda Accords and Civics, 2002 Honda Odyssey minivans, 2002 and 2003 CR-V compact SUVs, 2002 and 2003 Acura 3.2 TLs and 2003 Acura 3.2 CL models

Airbags of the Future


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