For the decades that I’ve been involved in road safety, there always seems to be a debate about airbags. Are they safe or are they risky? Well, it depends on who you ask. Part of making an opinion is finding out the facts first.
The goal of the airbag is to stop the forward motion of the occupant as quickly as possible to reduce serious injuries. Airbags are also designed to work along with the seatbelt. When airbags were first in vehicles they were designed to prevent serious injury in frontal collisions only. Seatbelts were still needed because of impacts from other sides. Side airbags are now common as are curtain airbags coming out of the pillars in the vehicle. Some vehicles are now being equipped to have 10 or more airbags. There’s now more protection from serious injuries because of the addition of airbags. However, the airbag isn’t a big pillow that slowly comes out to protect you.
The force of the airbag can and do hurt anyone who is sitting too close to them. It’s been determined the first 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) from the airbag when it first deploys delivers the most “punch”. Airbags generally deploy at 200 mph (320 km/h) and anywhere between 1/25 and 1/30 of a second. Pretty fast, huh? So many times I’ve seen drivers sit extremely close to the steering wheel. The impact of the airbag would do so much injury to them if it deploys. I knew someone who sat that close. When I asked them why, they said it allowed them to look further up the road. I explained to them about the airbag and suggested they sit at least 10 inches (25 cm) from the airbag. That would allow it to do the job it’s designed to do. They changed their habit and sat further back.
When it comes to small children, it’s always been recommended that children 12 and under should be sitting in the rear seat. (More of where kids should sit and why can be found here.) An airbag can seriously injure or perhaps kill a small child if they’re sitting too close to the airbag, even if they are over 12 years of age. (Remember the 200 mph/320 km/h?)
Let’s come back to the driver. Proper seating position can make the world of a difference for airbag deployment and safety. When I’m driving, I’m not thinking about sitting in a position that protects me from any possible injury if the airbag deploys. I’m sitting in a position that will allow me to control the vehicle so the airbag doesn’t need to deploy.
There’s also debate where you hold the steering wheel. 10-2, 9-3 or even 8-4. Regardless of where you hold the wheel, your arms and hands will be thrown away from the airbag. Watch how the airbag deploys in this video clip. https://youtu.be/8YB6sPVJHj0 The airbag itself is wider in diameter than the steering wheel. Therefore, in that split second, the driver’s hands would be thrown off from the steering wheel to the sides. That’s going to happen no matter how the steering wheel is held. The worse position would be holding the steering wheel at 12 when the airbag goes off as that would smack you in the face. Ouch! My advice – hold the steering wheel that gives you the best steering control so you can avoid having the airbag deploying. Don’t drive in fear. Drive with confidence.