How to keep your kids safe from airbags

SRS airbag logo on car

Cropped image. Hector Alejandro, Flickr. CC license.

There is no question: Airbags save lives. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) “Frontal airbags reduce driver fatalities in frontal crashes by 29 percent and fatalities of front-seat passengers age 13 and older by 32 percent.”

There are, however, circumstances when airbags can actually contribute to an injury. Recently my dad and stepmom were involved in a crash where the airbags kept them both alive and mostly uninjured. Unfortunately, the airbag deployment also left my stepmom with 50 percent hearing loss in one ear.

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances that an airbag will injure you or the ones you love.

Sit properly

  • Drivers should sit with their chest at least 12 inches from the steering wheel and all passengers must wear their seatbelts properly.
  • Adjust the seat headrest so it is positioned higher than the top of your head. The headrest is designed specifically to reduce risk of neck injury in a crash.
  • Forget “10 and 2” on the steering wheel. Current driver’s training curriculum instructs new drivers to lower hand positions to 9 and 3. Lowering hand positions prevents forearms from being positioned directly over the area of air bag deployment. AAA produced this video on the right way to hold a steering wheel.
  • Do not lean against the window where there are side-impact curtain airbags and instruct your rear passengers to do the same. This was something that I had never thought about in the past.
  • Never put items on top of the dash (including your feet) or where airbags may deploy. Use your vehicle manual to familiarize yourself with the location of airbags in your specific car. Anything on top of an airbag could go flying in a crash and injure yourself and other passengers.

Keeping children safe

  • Never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an airbag. This video shows exactly what happens to a child seat when used improperly.
  • Children should be at least 13 years old before they ride in the front seat. An airbag deploys at around 220 miles per hour! Shorter children can be severely injured at that speed, especially at lower heights. If you absolutely must put a younger child in the front seat, move the seat back as far as possible to get as much distance between the passenger and where the airbag would deploy.
  • Some cars have airbags within their seat belts referred to as “inflatable seat belts”. When installing a car seat or booster in these seating positions, you must ensure that the car seat manufacturer will allow installation or use with their seat. In some 5-point harnessed seats, the lower anchors of LATCH can be used alternative to the seatbelt for installation, but there are weight limits that must be considered. If you have inflatable seat belts, check with your car seat manufacturer for compatibility or use this quick list provided by Safe Kids.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System

References:

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