The vehicles we drive provide ever-increasing protection in the event we’re involved in a collision. Most vehicles today have airbags of some type. But did you know that this crucial safety feature is most effective when you do your part, too?
The airbag is one of the most important auto safety innovations in recent history. Understanding how it works and how your behavior can affect it is essential to ensure this safety feature works as it should without causing you or your passenger harm.
How It Works
An airbag is designed to reduce your risk of injury or death in the event of a crash by keeping you from colliding with components of the vehicle.
A front airbag is meant to keep your head, neck, and chest from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield, in a front-end crash.
Typically, a front airbag won’t inflate if you’re hit from the rear or you roll over; it also doesn’t inflate in most side-impact crashes. Side airbags and curtains are specifically designed to protect you in a side-impact collision.
The airbag is usually set to deploy when the severity of a crash reaches a predetermined level, which varies by vehicle model.
When the airbag sensor detects a crash severe enough to trigger deployment, it sends a signal to inflate the bag.
Today's airbags use a different chemical to produce nitrogen gas: guanidinium nitrate, plus a copper nitrate oxidizer. When ignited, guanidinium nitrate decomposes into nitrogen gas, water, and carbon. As soon as the airbag has absorbed the energy of the person it’s protecting, it immediately deflates.
Since their inception, airbags have evolved greatly and their use in vehicles has expanded. Some models now have side curtain airbags designed to protect occupants from side-impact collisions.
In a crash, side curtain airbags essentially “unroll” from a compartment above the doors and windows, helping to cover these components, minimize the risk of ejection from the vehicle, and reduce the odds of dangerous objects entering from the outside.
Some models also have front-center airbags designed to prevent drivers and front-seat passengers from colliding with each other in a crash.
Front airbags have been required in all new passenger vehicles in the U.S. since the 1999 model year.
While side airbags aren’t mandated by the U.S. government, most automakers include them as standard equipment to meet federal requirements on side protection. The push to equip vehicles with airbags is with good reason: They’ve been shown to save lives.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in frontal crashes front airbags reduce fatalities by 29% for drivers and by 32% for front-seat passengers age 13 and older.
Side airbags also have proven effective in a crash, particularly in side-impact crashes, which can be severe. In a crash impacting the driver’s side door, side airbags reduce the risk of death for drivers of passenger cars by 37% and for drivers of SUVs by 52%.
Know Your Role
While an airbag is designed to keep you safer in a collision, your actions can impact how well it works. IIHS recommends several ways you can optimize the effectiveness of an airbag, both for you and your passengers.
- While driving or sitting in the front passenger seat, always sit in the center of the seat in an upright position. Keep your back against the seatback and both feet on the floor.
- Sit far enough away from the steering wheel so that your chest is at least 10 inches from the center. If you need to position the seat far forward because of your height, you should recline the seat back slightly to maintain enough distance from the steering wheel.
- Don’t rest your arms or legs against the airbag compartment. If the airbag deploys in a crash, the force of the deployment and the heat of the gases emitted by the bag could cause injury if you’re resting any part of your body against the compartment.
- Maintain the proper hand position on the steering wheel. Many motorists hold the wheel at the “10 and 2” position (where the numerals 10 and 2 appear on a clock), but this places your hands in a vulnerable position and at greater risk of injury if the airbag deploys. The “9 and 3” position is a safer choice.
- Never seat an infant or young child in the front passenger seat due to the risk of injury from an airbag deployment.
- Don’t allow children to lean against the door with a side airbag, because the force of deployment could cause injury. Even though manufacturers have committed to design side airbags in a way that reduces injury risks in this situation, it is best not to allow it.
Do Not Ignore and The Process On How To Check for Recalls
Over the past year, many vehicle models have been recalled due to faulty airbags that can cause injury. You should always take a vehicle recall seriously, especially when it involves a safety feature.
If your model is part of the airbag recall, the manufacturer should have notified you to bring your vehicle to an authorized shop for repair. If you’re not certain whether your model is affected, visit here for a list of models.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that a safety recall is issued if either the manufacturer or the NHTSA determines that a vehicle or its equipment poses a safety risk or does not meet motor vehicle safety. Every safety defect puts people at risk and recalls should be taken seriously.
Exploring these features and how they work is important for an organization’s safety culture and should be maintained and monitored to ensure they’re effective in keeping you and your passengers safer in a crash.