athAccording to statistics, motor vehicle accidents are the number one leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths, making up close to 45% and more than quadrupling all other causes. Although these statistics can be overwhelming knowing that driving a motor vehicle on a daily basis comes with a lot of risk, an individuals chance of injury can be lowered by following basic rules of safety. The American Trauma Society believes that the injury rate could be reduced by 50% if people would simply apply existing information about prevention. Wearing a seat belt while riding in a motor vehicle is by far the easiest way to prevent injury and death, and should be done anyhow because it is a federal law to do so. In addition to seat belts, motor vehicles are equipped with air bags, an automatic form of protection designed to reduce the risk of injury. In the past decade, air bags have saved the lives of close to 3,000 people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study of real-world motor vehicle crashes and were able to conclude that the combination of seat belts and air bags is 75% effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66% effective in preventing serious chest injuries. Unfortunately for about 100 people in the past decade, their lives were saved at the expense of suffering a less severe injury caused by the air bag itself. However, when proper air bag safety is applied in conjunction of wearing a seat belt properly, most injuries and deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes are minimized or even prevented all together.
Air bags are designed specifically to cushion occupants as they move forward in a front-end crash, keeping the head, neck, and chest from hitting the steering wheel or dashboard. In order to perform well, air bags deploy quickly and forcefully, with the greatest force in the first 2-3 inches after releasing through the cover and beginning to inflate. Therefore, occupants who are positioned too close to the air bag at the time it deploys put themselves at risk to suffer serious injury or death. The one fact that is common to all who have died due to an air bag induced injury is NOT their height, weight, sex, or age, but rather the fact that they were too close to the air bag when it started to deploy. In the circumstances of those who have died, almost all of them were improperly restrained or positioned, or even unrestrained. A few had medical conditions that caused them to slump over the steering wheel immediately before the crash, making their bodies positioned too close to the air bag, while some were sitting too close to the steering wheel to begin with.
Following a few basic safety rules can reduce the risk of injuries caused by air bags. First and foremost, one should buckle up. The position of the seat belt is important in functioning properly such that they stretch and slow down the movement towards the steering wheel or dashboard. All slack from the belt should be taken in and it should be positioned over the hips, not the abdomen, and across the chest and over the shoulder. Sitting back allows the air bag to inflate before the occupant moves forward far enough to contact the air bag. The front seats should be moved back toward the rear, providing at least 10 inches from the passenger’s chest to the dashboard and from the driver’s chest to the steering wheel. The driver should also tilt the steering wheel to the downward position such that the air bag points towards the chest, rather than the head or neck.
The best way to protect children from air bag injury is to place children 12 and under in the back seat buckled up correctly. Rear-facing infant seats should never be placed in the front, but should be properly secured in the back seat. There will be instances where a child must sit in the front, because the vehicle has no rear seat, there are too many children for all to ride in the back, or a child has a medical condition that requires monitoring.