Did you know that frontal airbags saved more than 50,000 lives from 1987 to 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration? Here’s everything you need to know about airbags, including how to avoid airbag injuries.

How an Airbag Helps Keep You Safe

An airbag is also called a supplementary restraint system (SRS). Note the all-important word “supplementary.” The airbag in your vehicle is designed to be a safety measure that’s in addition to your primary protection system: your seatbelt. Always remember to buckle up! 

In the event of a moderate to severe crash, an airbag’s job is to inflate instantly — within less than 1/20th of a second — slowing the driver’s or passenger’s momentum and preventing the driver or passenger from colliding with the vehicle.

Types of Airbags

Airbags have been standard equipment in passenger cars for decades, but not all vehicles have all types of airbags. Check with your vehicle manufacturer or owner’s manual to find out how your car is equipped. 

Frontal airbags are the standard in all passenger vehicles, and protect the driver from smashing into the steering wheel and the front passenger from the dashboard. 

Side airbags (also called SABS) protect passengers in case of a side impact, and are located in the side of the seat. 

Knee airbags are typically installed under the steering wheel to prevent knees from hitting the dashboard in the event of a frontal crash. 

Curtain airbags are mounted in the roof and deploy like a curtain, often covering front and rear seats. 

How to Avoid Airbag-Related Injuries

Airbag technology has come a long way in the past few decades. Older airbags deployed in the same way, no matter how much a passenger weighed, sometimes causing injury and death. Newer designs, called advanced frontal airbags, come with sophisticated sensing systems, and so do a better job of protecting vehicle occupants. 

That means airbag-caused injuries are less likely than they used to be, but there are still some steps you can take to reduce the risk of injury (including abrasions, burns, and injuries to the head and neck).

Make sure you’re seated properly, with your seatbelt fastened. If you’re not wearing your seatbelt, you could be propelled into the airbag with an injury-inducing or even fatal force. Don’t sit too close to the steering wheel. Sit as far back as you can while still being able to fully use the pedals. About 10 inches from your driver side airbag is ideal.

Tilt your steering wheel downward. This will ensure that the airbag is pointing toward your chest, rather than your head and neck. 

Don’t allow children under the age of 13 to ride in the front seat, even if your vehicle contains advanced frontal airbags. Children’s neck muscles, bones, and short stature make them more vulnerable to getting hurt by a deploying airbag. Even children riding in a rear-facing car seat are at extremely high risk for injury if seating in the front seat. 

Install an on/off switch for your airbag if you meet certain conditions. Most airbags these days have weight sensors, but there are some individuals who are at greater risk if an airbag deploys. These include people who cannot position themselves properly or individuals with certain medical conditions. Check with the NHTSA for details and specifics about airbag on/off switches. 

  • Treats, like candy and mints or gum
  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
  • Napkins
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm/chapstick
  • Surprise activities (sticker books, Wikki Stix, silly putty)

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