Air Bag Safety - Not Just Hot Air

By: Rob Parker

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), protective air bags installed in automobiles save thousands of lives every year and reduce deaths among drivers and passengers by roughly 30 and 27 percent, respectively in frontal crashes.

For most of us the presence of air bags is a good thing, but there is a significant segment of the population for whom the activation of an air age can mean serious injury and even death. Those at risk include small children sitting in the front seat of a car, especially if they're not wearing safety belts, small adults who must sit close to the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals, obese adults and pregnant women, and the elderly. As well, while it is generally recommended that infants ride in rear-facing baby seats when they're in the back seat of a car, when the same seats are placed in a car's front seat, there is risk of severe head trauma if the bag deploys.

Reducing the Risk of Air Bar-Induced Injuries

While air bags can be deactivated, there are less extreme methods of reducing the likelihood of an air-bag related injury. They include:

Move the seat back. If you're an adult of short stature, push the seat back when you're riding as a passenger, ensuring that your breastbone is at least ten inches from the air bag cover. If you're the driver, you may not have this option, but you can look into modified pedals, so you can sit farther from the steering wheel.

Keep kids in the back seat. Children under twelve should sit in the back seat whenever possible, even if the front passenger seat is empty. This is especially true for rear-facing infant seats, but even forward-facing infant seats should never be in the front seat if it can be avoided.
Buckle up. Seatbelts, when worn correctly, will keep you from falling forward, into the path of an air bag as it is deployed. Insist that the car does not move until everyone is buckled in.

Switch it Off

If none of the options above will work for you and your car, you can have an air bag cutoff switch installed in your car so that you have control of whether or not the air bags will be deployed. The NHTSA has allowed repair shops and dealers to install these switches for ten years now, but before the work can be done, there is a four-step process you must complete:

You must obtain an information brochure and request form, either from your repair shop, dealer, or directly from the NHTSA.

You must complete the form, and send it to the NHTSA

The NHTSA must review your request, and certify that you have met one of the four conditions of eligibility:
You have no option except the front seat for a rear-facing infant seat (in a two-seat car, for example.)
Your driver's seat cannot be adjusted to allow more than ten inches between the driver and the steering wheel.
You cannot avoid having a child aged twelve or younger as a front passenger.
You have a medical condition (including morbid obesity, pregnancy, or old age) that puts you at risk of injury when an air bag is activated.

You must take your vehicle, and the authorization, to your dealer or service station, and have the cutoff switch installed.

The point of automobile air bags is to help, not harm. While having them can save your insurance premium from increasing because of post-accident hospital bills, or earn you an insurance discount, if you are more likely to be injured by the air bag, you should take steps to protect yourself, including deactivation, if necessary.

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