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Helping Your Airbag Help You: Tips to Maximize the Safety Features of Your Car’s Airbag

By now, we have all seen countless slow motion videos of crash test dummies flying into airbags during frontal-impact crash tests. Cars today have several more airbags throughout the body of the car to protect occupants form a wider range of impacts, and many airbags are now “smart” with a multi-tier inflation system. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the humble frontal airbag has saved nearly 26,000 lives between 1987 and 2008.

Despite all of the good that airbags do, many people do not realize that the way they drive their car may severely decrease the ability of their airbags to work properly. Some airbags have even caused more harm than good when people allow smaller children and car seats in the front passenger seat, severely injuring or even killing small children.

Reducing the Risk and Increasing Safety: Putting Your Airbag to Work for You

Nearly every car is equipped with airbags, which is why it is recommended that children under the age of 13 sit in the back seat of the car. When this is not possible, ensure that the airbag switch for the passenger is set to “OFF” when your small child is in the front seat. While you may think that you are being safer leaving the airbag on, it can cause more harm than good for your child in the event of a wreck.

For drivers, those most likely to encounter an airbag deployment, one of the most important things to be aware of is the distance between you and your steering wheel. Most airbags are designed to accommodate the average-sized male at about 5’9” tall; for drivers shorter than this, they may be too close to the steering wheel. A general suggestion is to leave about one foot of space between your sternum and the center of the steering wheel to leave the bag room to fully inflate.

Drivers of all sizes can protect their arms, wrists, and hands—some of the most common injuries in an airbag deployment—by driving with their hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions. The old 10 and 2 o’clock rule does not leave enough room for the airbag to inflate between your arms without flinging them up, often striking the roof of your car.

The Golden Rule of Airbag Safety

The most effective way to make your airbag as safe as possible is to wear your seat belt. Airbags are not solo artists—they are designed to be most effective in conjunction with a properly worn seat belt. As you embark on holiday road trips or even a quick drive to the grocery store, remember: buckling up could save you today.

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