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How can you cut the risk of being injured by your airbag?

Here are some things you can do to reduce your chance of getting hurt if your airbag inflates.

Image: Shutterstock/B toy Anucha

AIRBAGS PLAY A pivotal role in saving lives during a crash. When combined with wearing a seatbelt airbags are a very effective means of keeping vehicle occupants safe.

How airbags work

A very rudimentary explanation: when sensors in the vehicle detect a collision they send an electric current through a heating element into a canister. In this canister is a chemical explosive which, as it burns, generates a huge amount of harmless gas that flows into a nylon bag packed behind the steering wheel/dashboard. When the bag expands, BOOM! the cover blows off the steering wheel and inflates.

The job of the airbag is to expand at an extremely fast rate in order to be fully inflated by the time a person’s body begins to move in reaction to a collision. Engineers have this down to an exact science – in general, European airbags hold 35 litres of gas propellant and fully inflate within 25 milliseconds.

However, in order to save lives, airbags need to deploy properly and in order not to cause injury when they do deploy occupants need to follow some safety advice.

How to find the right driving position

Always ALWAYS wear your seat belt. Seat belts, when worn correctly, will brace your body against the seat giving the airbag the time needed to do its job of cushioning any impact and protecting you. Airbags are more effective when combined with a seat belt.

Keep 25 to 30cm (10-12 inches) between your chest and the steering wheel. Being this far away reduces the risk of receiving the full force of a deploying airbag. However, airbags differ from car to car, so ask the vehicle manufacturer for advice about the minimum distance between you and the airbag.

Many cars nowadays have adjustable steering columns and seats that are height adjustable as well as being able to move forward/backward and recline, so a comfortable as well as safe driving position should be easy for most to find.

Source: Shutterstock/sasirin pamai

What about the front-seat passenger?

There are a few key points which can help front-seat passengers ride safely.


  • Never ever put feet up on the dashboard.
  • Sit at least 25 to 30cm (10-12 inches) from the dashboard.
  • Don’t attach anything to the dashboard over or near the airbag.
  • Pregnant passengers should have the seat pushed back as far as possible and wear the seat belt correctly.
  • If the vehicle has side airbags try not to rest of lean against their storage compartments.



Airbag safety for children

It is safer for children to ride in the rear. Research shows that rear seats are 59 to 86 per cent safer than the front seat in a car.

It is illegal to use a rearward-facing child car seat in a passenger seat protected by an airbag. You many receive at least three penalty points on your driving licence if you are caught doing this. The deployment of an airbag where a rearward–facing baby seat is in place can cause serious injury to the child or even death.

It is recommendation that children should be a minimum of 140cm tall to sit in the front passenger seat where there is an active airbag, unless there are other recommendations from the car manufacturer.

Again, as with adults, children should be positioned outside of the airbag deployment zone.

READ: The most luxurious cars at this year’s Pebble Beach motor show >

READ: 5 apps that will make city driving less stressful >

About the author:

Melanie May  /

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