Airbags – how safe they really are
There is no doubt that airbags save lives. An airbag is definitely one of the most advanced systems designed to keep passengers safe in commercial vehicles. However, many of us take them for granted, thinking that in critical moments airbags will do the job whether we have taken all safety precautions or not. And they will. But not without consequences. For that reason, it is essential that we know how to keep the driver and other passengers - including pregnant women, children and disabled persons - safe from harm, how many airbags we really need, in what situations should they be disabled, whether they have an expiration date and when we should have them replaced.
In order to understand what potential risks we are exposed to we need to know how airbags work. Once the sensors detect potential danger and estimate that a seat belt is not enough, the airbag needs to be fully inflated (and deflated) extremely fast to cushion the blow as much as possible. When we say extremely fast we mean 20 to 30 milliseconds. Such great speed can only be achieved through a chemical reaction i.e. an explosion. For that reason, passengers sometimes get small bruises, scratches and burns on their face and arms.
Before we make clear what the best way to protect yourself and other passengers is, it is important that we resolve one big drivers' dilemma – and that is not to consider airbags as replacement for wearing a seat belt, but as an additional safety measure. Don't ever think that you don't need to fasten your seat belt if your car is equipped with airbags.
For drivers it is very important to understand in what way they should sit and hold the wheel. Check how much space does a fully inflated airbag take in the user manual (it is usually 25 to 35 cm) and try not to sit closer to the steering wheel and the foot breaks than you need in order to be able to drive. This is especially important for drivers who are less than 160 cm tall and weigh less than 55 kg. Beside the fact that they need to mind the closeness to the front end of the vehicle, they need to be sure that the seat belt is not loose, because lighter drivers enter the airbag deployment zone faster. Another important piece of advice is never to drive with your hand across the wheel (12 o'clock) because an airbag that fires might break your arm. We advise you to hold the wheel in positions on „ten to two“ or „quarter to three“ because these are the safest positions.
- Watch our vide that explains why certain driving habits are dangerous
The rule of keeping a safe distance applies to the passengers sitting on the front seat as well – do not get unnecessarily close to the front panel. It is highly important for pregnant women that they draw the seat as far back as possible, or to simply sit in the back. In critical situations, passengers tend to use their arms to prevent the body from going forward. However, this can be dangerous as it may break one's bones. When it comes to child seats, bear in mind that only babies in appropriate basket carriers can ride in the front passenger seat, but only if the airbag has been deactivated
- Watch our video about child car seats
Driver with disability
If the position of the driver with disability is such that it enters the airbag deployment zone or if the driver needs to drive with the arm across the wheel, an airbag that comes out may cause injuries. Many car manufacturers are now developing „smart airbag” systems that sense the position of the driver and adjust performance accordingly. However, in some cases you might want to consider disabling your airbags due to closeness to the dashboard, but this must be the last resort in any case.
Disabled airbags should be reactivated if you are selling your car. Otherwise you should inform the buyer and the insurance company about the issue. If you are buying a car yourself, remember to check if the airbags work and if they are present at all. Car owners usually just mend the place the airbag was fired from because they are expensive to replace. Before you decide on buying a used car, make sure you check this at a qualified service.
- Watch our video exploring the topic of buying a used car.
How many airbags should there really be
To think that the more airbags a car has the safer they are would be a mistake. The number of airbags depends on the size of the car, and the manufacturer already estimated what the optimal number and positions are.
Do they expire?
Airbags should serve your for as long as your car does. In older vehicles that came out before 2000 the manufacturers were not sure if the airbags will stand the test of time, because back then the technology was still young, so they recommended replacing the airbags after 10 to 15 years. In any case, pay attention to the warning lights. If everything is ok, the lamp should go on when you give contact and then after a few seconds it should go off. If you notice that the light remains to be on, visit your car service immediately. Ignoring warning lights is one of the most frequent mistakes drivers make, along with delaying car repairs, prolonging services and not changing motor oil within intervals recommended by the manufacturer.
- Have a look at our infographic about the things that drivers usually do wrong
We hope you find this article useful. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, suggestions or proposals for topics that you are interested in exploring.