The Truth About Air Bags
Virtually all new cars have airbags and they’re saving lives. They’re reducing driver deaths by about 14 percent and passenger air bags reduce deaths by about 11 percent.
People who use safety belts may think they don’t need airbags, but they do. Airbags and lap/shoulder belts work together as a system and one without the other isn’t as effective. Deaths are 12 percent lower among drivers with belts and 9 percent lower among belted passengers.
However there also are problems with airbags. Inflating bags have caused some serious injuries and deaths. Position is what counts. Serious inflation injuries occur primarily because of people’s positions when airbags first begin inflating. Anyone, regardless of size or age, who’s on top of or very close to an airbag is at risk. Most airbag deaths have involved people who weren’t using safety belts, were using them incorrectly, or were positioned improperly.
People without safety belts or using them incorrectly, especially passengers, are at risk because they’re likely to move forward during hard braking or other violent maneuvers before crashes. Then they’re likely to be very close to, or on top of, airbags before inflation begins. Improperly positioned people at risk include drivers who sit very close to the steering wheel–10 inches or closer– and infants in rear-facing restraints in front seats.
MANUAL AIR BAG ON-OFF SWITCH Vehicles with no back seat, or a back seat that is too small to hold a child seat, may be equipped with a special switch that lets the driver control the passenger air bag. The switch has a warning light that must be clearly visible to all front seat passengers that will tell them when the air bag has been turned off. A rear facing infant seat should NEVER be placed in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with an active passenger airbag. Infants and children can be injured or even killed if the air bag deploys. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for information on the proper use of the air bag on-off switch.
Please note: Children are safest when properly restrained in the back seat, whether the vehicle has an air bag or not.
In addition, drivers and passengers fitting certain risk profiles can get authorization from NHTSA to have an on-off switch installed by a dealer or repair facility if a switch is available for the vehicle they own. The four risk profiles are:
- Cannot avoid placing rear-facing infant seats in the front passenger seat.
- Have been advised by a physician that you have a medical condition that places you at specific risk.
- Cannot adjust the driver’s position to keep your breastbone back approximately 10 inches from the steering wheel.
- Cannot avoid situations, such as a car pool, that require a child 12 or under to ride in the front seat.
Some manufacturers offer vehicles with a system that deactivates the passenger air bag when a special child restraint, sold by these manufacturers, is properly installed. At the time of publication, two vehicle manufacturers offer these systems: Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
You can get a brochure about on-off switches and an installation request form from local vehicle dealerships, AAA offices, state motor vehicle offices, and NHTSA. Since on-off switches are not available for all vehicles, verify availability of a switch for your vehicle before you request authorization for its installation.
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