Air Bag Safety
Air bags reduce the risk of injury for properly belted adult
passengers. Air bags are designed primarily for front impact crashes. Air bags
are designed to supplement lap and shoulder belts to limit head and chest
injuries. Air bags are not designed to replace seat belts. It is very important
to wear the seatbelt when sitting in a seat equipped with an air bag.
Beginning in the 1998 model year, all new passenger cars
sold in the United States must have driver- and passenger-side air bags. Light
trucks will follow suit in 1999. However, prior to 1998 many vehicles were
equipped with air bags.
Benefits of Air Bags
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),
a part of the U. S. Department of Transportation, reports that air bags have
saved over 1700 lives since 1985. The risk of fatal injury to drivers from a
collision has already been reduced by 11%, and hospital injury claims reduced
by 24%. The NHTSA expects the benefits only to increase as more and more vehicles
on the road are equipped with air bags. Air bags are very effective
supplemental safety devices, and they are accomplishing their goal of saving
How Do Air Bags Work?
Electronic sensors detect sudden, sharp decelerations (such
as a crash) and detonate a small charge which inflates the bag. Air bags deploy
at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour - faster than your eye can blink. While
slow-motion photographs may make an air bag appear as a soft, billowy pillow, a
person who contacts an air bag before it is fully inflated may be seriously
injured or killed. Once fully inflated, an air bag helps the seat belts to
safely slow down the driver or passenger without injury.
Air Bags and Children
You absolutely must buckle any child 12 years and under in
the back seat if you have a passenger-side air bag. Young children face a
greater risk of injury if they contact an inflating air bag. Passenger-side air
bags could severely injure or possibly kill your child. Additionally, buckling
your child in the back seat is the best way to protect him or her from injury
in any kind of traffic accident, even if you don't have an air bag.
Smart Air Bags
All of the auto manufacturers are actively working on
"smart" air bags; that is, air bags that can sense the presence of a
child seat or small adult. Some manufacturers are working on special child
seats and vehicle seats that disable the air bag. But the reality for most cars
on the road today is that smart air bag technology is still several years away.
Until smart air bag technology is available for everyone,
the NHTSA has proposed that vehicle owners be allowed to turn off their air bag
under some circumstances. Another proposal the NHTSA has offered is for
consumers to be allowed to install an air bag cutoff switch in their car. Some
light trucks already have an air bag cutoff switch.
Still, if you transport children 12 years of age and
younger, the safest place for them is in the back seat buckled securely.
Additionally, the driver and front seat passenger should push their seats back
as far as possible to minimize their risk of injury. And never rest anything on
top of the air bag cover. If you have questions about your vehicle's air bag
system, you will find the auto manufacturer's toll-free phone number in your
vehicle owner's manual, or you can contact the NHTSA's Auto Safety Hotline at