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Should Car Manufacturers Install Airbag Systems or 5 Point Racing Harnesses?

Updated on May 16, 2015
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin attempts to discern the logic, or lack thereof, in various, topical social issues.

Airbags save lives. This is a point that cannot be disputed. We’ve come a long way technologically, from no seatbelts at all to a single strap around our waist to shoulder harnesses to the modern shoulder harness airbag system.

And we’ve learned a lot along the way, especially on out latest journey with the airbag. First off, that a simple idea like the deployment of a bag of air to keep us safe in a crash really isn’t so simple. For starters, quality control is an overwhelming process. With wanting to save lives comes the liability of saving lives, and the financial cost of lawsuits.

Not up for debate: the fact that airbags do save lives.
Not up for debate: the fact that airbags do save lives. | Source

Difficulties in Developing Airbag Technology

Technologically, one of the biggest hurdles was developing an extensive sensor system that would fire the airbags the instant a predetermined threshold of contact was exceeded, not to mention determining the threshold of deployment.

In addition, it turns out airbags are a real hazard for children. The result, the need for more sensors to determine if a person is large enough to benefit from an airbag, and it doesn’t stop there. We also can’t put airbags just anywhere. Backseats are designated for our little ones. This means that grownups riding in the backseat do so without the benefit of an airbag.

The True Price of Airbags

And what is the bottom line of all this technology: a hefty price tag every time our airbags go off and have to be reinstalled (an estimated cost of $1,000-6,000 dollars to give a ballpark figure), not to mention the weight added to sticker prices when we buy a car with an airbag system in the first place.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as collateral damage. Let’s say we have fancy insurance, the full coverage variety that we pay diligently each and every month. Then one day we cross paths with a dear, our airbags deploy and then what? Most likely our handy-dandy insurance adjustor comes out and decides that the best your wonderful insurance can do is total the car out.

Is there anything beyond cosmetic problems with your car? No, just that the airbags need to be reinstalled. Well, that’s enough to send you shopping for a brand new vehicle. And think of it, what a waste. A car that isn’t even un-drivable being sold for scrap. The Mother Earth’s resources depleted as they are, and we have to completely process this hunk of metal that was our vehicle into something new. Yeah, it’s tragic from a personal standpoint, but from an ecological standpoint, it’s a catastrophe.

And there’s more. Airbags also constitute a very lucrative criminal enterprise. Chop shops take these airbags out of used cars, replace them with some manner of stuffing, and get two paydays out of the deal. And when it comes time for your airbag to save your life, it might not even be in there.

Vehicles that would have been repaired in the past are being totaled out because of airbag reinstallation costs.
Vehicles that would have been repaired in the past are being totaled out because of airbag reinstallation costs. | Source

5 Point Racing Harnesses: Could This be a Better Way?

So why am I complaining? What can be done? We know airbags save lives, so surely I’m not suggesting we do away with them and allow people to die? Of course I’m not, but I do want to explore the concept of a better way. Could it be that at some point we became so focused on the development of airbags that our thought processes became linear and we were unable to see that there is a better way?

I hypothesize that this is what happened. I don’t know for certain that I am correct, but I wish to get a discussion going, and your feedback on the matter is essential. So using the power of conjecture, let’s explore the concept that there is a better way to keep drivers safe than airbags.

Do you ever watch NASCAR or Indy racing or any of the types of auto racing out there too numerous to mention? If you watch these sports on occasion, even if you pay little attention, you probably noticed what isn’t present in any of the vehicles in these sports: airbags. Why? They prefer a different system: usually a roll cage and a 5 point safety harness.

The 5 point racing harness has actually been in place for decades to protect our children.
The 5 point racing harness has actually been in place for decades to protect our children. | Source

Racecar Seats Equiped for Housing 5 Point Racing Harnesses Don't Cost Anymore than Most Regular Car Seats

And despite driving like complete lunatics and taking risks the average driver would never take in his or her personal vehicle, the modern racecar driver rarely dies in an auto accident. What do they usually say on ESPN after they show a horrific racecar crash? “And the driver walked away.”

There are a number of reasons why roll cages are not often employed in everyday vehicles; one of the primary ones being that such a device usually necessitates the welding closed of the vehicle’s doors and one climbing through the window. Instead, modern vehicles employ crumple zones, but as impractical as roll cages for everyday vehicles might be, what about 5 point racing harnesses?

First off, they are already commonly used in everyday vehicles. What do you think that you are strapping baby into everyday? Basically, it is a racing seat and a 5 point racing harness. And they do a wonderful job of keeping our babies safe in auto accidents, especially when we consider how frail their little bodies are in comparison to that of an adult.

So why not do away with airbags and have everybody use 5 point safety harnesses? Is it expensive? My initial research says no. Such a harness is usually less than $150 per unit. A racing seat that allows for such a restraint system to be installed doesn’t seem to cost anymore than a regular seat. If these items became factory standard, they would most likely become even cheaper.

Could a technology as simple as the 5 point racing harness really be a better answer?
Could a technology as simple as the 5 point racing harness really be a better answer? | Source

What About Upkeep?

There is no upkeep. No need for tons of sensors. When you crash, you don’t have to reinstall your restraint system. It is a onetime fee, and even if for some reason you did have to replace it, you wouldn’t be looking at an unreasonable bill.

What About Versatility?

Unlike airbags, 5 point safety harnesses could be designed to accommodate every adult and child in the vehicle.

What About Safety?

As I mentioned, this is a preliminary proposal, and I want feedback from viewers, but from the safety of child seats to the increased safety of racecar driving over the years, the anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that 5 point safety harnesses are every bit as safe as airbags, not to mention that in the event of a crash you retain whatever minimal control of the vehicle that you might have. In the instance of the deployment of airbags, you lose all control of the vehicle.

And you know as soon as you open the door if a 5 point racing harness is actually there and working. With malfunctioning technology and the prevalence of certain criminal enterprises, the same can’t be said for the airbag, especially if we purchase our car secondhand, which most all of us do these days.

What About the Simplicity of Technology?

Simple technology is always the best technology if it meets the following criteria: it works as well or better than more complex technologies, it is as cheap or cheaper than more complex technologies, and it is as or less impactful on the environment than other technologies.

With the airbag we have what started as a simple idea and has evolved to such complexity, it would give the best of Rube Goldberg machines a run for its money. My working hypothesis is that the 5 point racing harness does its job comparably or better than an airbag system by simply being there and performing its one simple function.

Was the airbag really the right technology to back?
Was the airbag really the right technology to back? | Source

Other Food for Thought:

Mobility in a 5 way safety harness is not as good as with a standard seatbelt, and I’m not sure how well such devices are currently equipped to deal with society’s ever-increasing waistlines, but as far as allowing most of us to drink our sodas and fiddle with our car radios, the 5 point safety harness is likely adequate.

In addition, racecars are not built with comfort as a primary goal, but is it unrealistic to believe that a 5 point safety harness developed for everyday cars could be effective and allow for a bit more comfort?

Airbags vs. 5 Point Racing Harnesses

Airbag Rating
5PRH Rating
Moderate to Low
Occupant Mobility


Do you think a 5 point racing harness could be a better way than airbags to keep drivers safe?

See results

Final Thoughts:

The main thing I want to emphasize here is that this is just a proposal. I want to know what everyone else thinks. Are 5 point safety harnesses a better way than airbags? Are there holes in my logic? Is there a better answer out there that hasn’t been addressed?

Airbags save lives, and it is impossible to put a value on that, but what if there was a simpler and less environmentally impactful way that was just as good or better?


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 19 months ago from Oklahoma

      Teaches: thanks for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 19 months ago

      When I read your title I instantly thought of a child's safety seat and I see you mentioned it as an example. Your have brought out some really important points and ones I hope the auto industry considers.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      It's just a thought, but I think it would be adaptable to regular car for regular people.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I think you are on to something and it should be an option for people who prefer it over an airbag. The waistline point is a good one and also is it adaptable for people of all sizes from petite to big and tall? A race car driver doesn't have to move much. How would a harness work, if you wanted to change the radio station or throw coins into a toll box. I expect those problems could be worked out. There was a big Nascar race if Florida last week and a very bad accident, and the driver walked away so the harness technology really does work.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago


      If the 5-point system can be worked on for ease and comfort then it will be less expensive than airbags.

      I was simply pointing out yesterday that it was more expensive to buy new cars than to buy new airbags.


    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Kevin: lots of good feedback. A lot of this is speculation on my part, but I don't think the current racing style 5 point system would be as comfortable as what we have now, but one of the biggest points I think that's worth noting is, if we had spent a tenth of the money developing an everyday 5 point system instead of an airbag system, mightn't that have been better on all fronts in the long run?

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      We could get use to the harness if we have to.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      This was interesting comparing these two. I have thoughts on both and I need to know what you feel - or think - about them.

      Airbags: Instead of spending $40,000-$60,000+ for a new car, buying new airbags is cheaper. They could improve the parts of the bags which cause deaths. In the backseat: Insert buttons, two airbags, and a choice of adult or child. That way if you place a child in the seat they will get a smaller airbag and not be suffocated.

      5 point harness: Are they comfortable for larger adults - basically women? Are they comfortable for long trips - longer than a race?

      I voted this up, shared and pinned it.


    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      LGP: thanks so much for stopping by and sharing.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Larry, I think it would be worth trying, after repeated use it would be worth trying, we would get use to it. I complained when we got the first seat belt, but got use to it, the ticket is worse. Great hub.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Alexis: thanks for the positive response. Personally, I'd like some research put into this. The airbag just doesn't seem like the most efficient way to protect us.

    • profile image

      protam 2 years ago

      Exceptions include some heavily coated side curtain air bags developed for rollover crash protection; these air bags may still be lubricated with talcum powder, which could potentially appear as "smoke" when these air bags inflate.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 2 years ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      I LOVE this idea! Personally, I wouldn't mind the roll cage of it was modified for everyday use. I'm going to look into the seats for my truck and throw my 2001 airbag away!! There's no way it works by now. Excellent hub, you should look into pitching this idea to car dealerships, I'm sure it could be just like installing a custom radio or having an ashtray in a brand new car.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Eshwarprasad: to the best of my knowledge you have to have a race style seat with the appropriate slots to install a 5 point harness.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      The old 'convertible hardtop' design is now gone, because it was so dangerous in a rollover (we still have convertibles, which are even more dangerous).

      Most of today's car bodies are designed for safety, with body structures that mimic roll cages, like this Volvo example:

    • profile image

      eshwarprasad 2 years ago

      can this be installed on a normal seat

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Au Fait: very interesting. My hub was focused more on the efficacy of 5 point harnesses than actual roll cages, but both technologies are probably cheaper than airbags in the long run.

      They would have to develop a cage that still allowed folks to easily get in and out of their car, but I see know reason why it couldn't be done. Beats crumple zone technology that doesn't really care if we break our arms and legs.

      Compelling points.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Just as you've suggested engineers were so focused on developing air bags that they may have missed something that would work as well or better that was less costly, so it could be that they are still so focused on expensive airbags that they haven't seriously considered how to make the roll cage more convenient and practical.

      I think any harness that keeps most of a person's parts in one place, saving the cleanup crew from having to search for them in the trees and fields after the accident, is as good as another.

      When in a really bad accident I think the roll cage is the best bet and without a roll cage seatbelts aren't worth much. You might survive a head-on with another vehicle, say an 18-wheeler, if you have a roll cage . . . and you might still not be so brain damaged you'll be a vegetable if you live. I know of people in terrible accidents with air bags that were in more pieces than a bean bag has beans when they were removed from their vehicles because a large vehicle rolled over their vehicle and their vehicle couldn't hold that large vehicle up.

      Seatbelts keep you from going through the windshield and may prevent banging your lovely front teeth on the steering wheel, though for average and short height women, that's a BIG may. Going through the windshield isn't a likelihood for me as the steering wheel is likely to stop me. I'm of average height and I still can't see over the steering wheel.

      I'd like to see them develop a reasonably cost affective practical roll cage. Have been saying that for many years now.

      Excellent discussion you have started here.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Alicia: thanks for dropping by. As much as anything, this article was intended to get people thinking. I welcome all discussion.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very thought provoking hub, Larry. I'm going to have to think about your suggestion, but my initial feeling is that it sounds like an excellent idea.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Will: thanks so much for the feedback. The more I look into it, there definitely would be some obstacles in really adapting the 5 point system to regular cars, but I really feel it could be done and would be superior on all fronts.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      This has been a pet peeve of mine for some time. As you pointed out, racing drivers survive crashes well above 200 mph all the time, and usually without a scratch, yet they don't use airbags.

      A five point racing harness should at least be an option for new car buyers, especially if they are smaller drivers who need to move their seats dangerously close to an airbag. They have been known to severely injure people and even decapitate children.

      Excellent Hub!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      FlourishAnyway and Billy: thanks for dropping by. Seat belts definitely work best when worn. Upon my initial research, I really think there could be advantages to the 5 point system.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting discussion, Larry. I honestly don't have an opinion on this. I'd need more data, but I find your alternative to air bags to be worth more research for sure.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Especially if you somehow rigged the seatbelt so that the car wouldn't start if the seatbelt wasn't buckled, people would get used to them even if bulkier. They would complain especially about bucking in like that for a short trip to the grocery store but most accidents occur close to home, and it's surprising how many injuries can actually occur as a result of airbags hitting a person. It is very unfortunate that good cars are being scrapped for the reason you reference. What a waste. You may be on to something.