Air bags: safety features are potentially dangerous

In the field of transportation, safety education has come a long way in the past few decades, especially as it pertains to child passengers. But in spite of recent advances, there’s still a long way to go. The good news is, parents and other drivers are more aware of how dangerous some formerly-common practices were. No more is it common to see: ‘ Children standing on the floor of the backseat while the car is in motion; ‘ Children lying under the rear window, gazing up at the stars; ‘ Children bouncing from window to window in the backseat; ‘ Children sitting in the driver’s lap, helping to “steer” the car: or ‘ Children climbing from front seat to back. Young vehicle passengers now are more likely to be restrained in age-appropriate safety seats’rear facing for young infants, forward facing for toddlers and booster seats as children get older and taller. But when it comes to air bags, this safety feature can be hazardous to small passengers. Air bags, which have saved lives in critical situations, have also been known to be the cause of death or serious injuries for smaller passengers. While some of these injuries for adults are nothing more than bruises, cuts or scrapes, some injuries children receive may require hospitalization; some are even fatal. Dana Runyan, member of the Extension Rural Passenger Safety Education Team at Texas A&M University, recommends following the guidelines from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS-HLDI). According to information from that agency, air bags’which are installed as standard equipment in nearly all new cars’have reduced driver deaths by nearly 14 percent, and passenger deaths by about 11 percent. But at the same time, deployed air bags are potentially deadly to passengers not wearing safety belts, driving sitting 10 inches or less from the steering wheel, and infants riding in rear facing child safety seats that have been placed in the front seat. Children younger than 12 also face these risks, Runyan said. For these passengers, injuries are caused by the force of the air bag’s deployment. “Anyone, regardless of size or age, who’s on top of, or very close to, an air bag is at risk,” IIHS-HLDI information states. “Most air bag deaths have involved people who weren’t using (safety) belts, were using them incorrectly or were positioned improperly.” Fortunately, the hazards caused by air bags are relatively simple to eliminate’and the benefits of air bags are great. These safety practices, courtesy of IIHS-HLDI, make air bags less of a hazard: ‘ Never place a child in a rear facing safety seat in the front seat of an air bag. Even on that first trip home from the hospital, make sure an infant rides in a rear facing child safety seat that has been situated firmly into the center position in the back seat of the vehicle. ‘ As the child grows older and big enough to graduate into a forward facing child safety seat, make sure that safety seat is securely restrained in the vehicle’s back seat. ‘ Adults should always buckle up, whether they are driving or just riding. “It isn’t your size, gender or age that determines risk. It’s position in relation to an air bag,” reported the IIHS-HLDI information. “Most adults can virtually eliminate the risk (caused by air bags) by buckling up. Neither short women nor elderly drivers are especially vulnerable if they use safety belts and sit at least 10 inches from the steering wheel.” Not only is the back seat a safer place to ride, but it keeps children away from the danger caused by air bags. And remember: Use the safety belts properly. The shoulder portion does not go under the arm. Runyan said that most new pickup models are equipped with off-on switches for air bags. That way the air bag can be switched off it a child is riding as a passenger. “The danger of serious or fatal injuries due to air bag deployment is a problem that may solved by new technology,” Runyan said. “Currently, researchers are developing such safety features as a sensor that can detect rear facing restraints and passengers who have leaned forward into the deployment zone. This sensor will automatically shut down the passenger side air bag if it senses someone in the danger zone. “And deployment rates of air bags will be altered, depending on the severity of the crash.”

Leave a Comment