Road Safety: Airbags

Airbags are part of a vehicle’s safety devices.  Like seatbelts, airbags are designed to protect the driver and passengers in a collision.  Between 1990 and 2000, deployed airbags saved the lives of nearly 350 people.  Nevertheless, many still believe that airbags can be dangerous.

Fact or Fiction:

  • The risk of serious injury increases when airbags are deployed.

    Fiction.  A study conducted in the United States by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has shown that the combined use of seatbelts and airbags is 75% effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66% effective in preventing serious chest injuries. Most airbag injuries are minor cuts or bruises.

  • Airbags are unsafe for short people.

    Fiction.  The danger does not come from the airbag itself but from the distance separating the person from the airbag cover.  To be safe, you must sit so that your sternum is at least 25 cm away from the centre of the steering wheel.  To achieve this, you must move your seat back, recline the back of your seat, or lower your steering wheel when driving.   Children age 12 and under should never sit in the front seat. 

  • Airbags can deploy in a rear-end collision.

    Fiction.  In principle, airbags are triggered in frontal collisions only and rarely, in side collisions. 

  • Airbags should be deactivated for pregnant women.

    Fiction.  Unless advised from a physician, pregnant women should not deactivate the airbag.  Similarly, it is important that they continue to wear the seatbelt.  In a crash, the seatbelt-airbag combination can prevent serious injury to the mother, thus protecting the foetus.

  • For some people, deactivating an airbag may be necessary.

    Fact.  There are four categories of people at risk for whom it may be justified to have an airbag deactivated:

1. People who have no choice but to transport infants in a rear-facing infant seat in the front passenger seat.
2. Drivers with a notice from their doctor stating that the airbag poses a special risk due to their health condition.
3. People who have no choice but to transport children age 12 and under in the front passenger seat.
4. People who cannot keep a distance of 25 cm between the airbag and the centre of their sternum.

When there is a collision, the risk of hitting your head, neck or chest is increased tenfold.  Thanks to seatbelts and airbags, such injuries can be avoided.