What About Side Air Bags
Since 1998, front air bags have been standard equipment required in all passenger cars. The safety devices became standard for vans, trucks, and SUVs in 1999. Now that the industry is seeing the wonderful life-saving benefits of air bags, experts are starting to hanker for even more required features.
With statistics showing that 10,000 deaths (about 25% of the total number) occur each year as a result of crashes to the side of the car, manufacturers are hearing the call and legislation is on its way. While side-impact air bags (or SABs) are not currently required safety equipment in vehicles, they have begun to crop up as standard features in multiple vehicles.
No one has set the standard on the type of SAB that will be required at this point. There are a few different styles, as listed below:
- Chest SABs―these are installed in the door or on the side of the seat and will lessen the impact to a person's chest in a side-impact collision.
- Head SABs―these are placed in the car's roof above the side windows and will cushion a person's head in a side-impact collision.
- Combo SABs―a combination of the two systems described above, this larger air bag will protect both a person's chest and head in a side-impact collision.
Think about a head-on collision. Even if both drivers are going very fast, you still have at least several feet of metal and glass between you to absorb a lot of the impact. Driver-side impacts, however, are considered the most dangerous collisions of all because all that exists between your body and a fast-moving chunk of metal and glass is a few measly inches. There's nothing there to absorb the worst of the impact except your flesh. So SABs seem more crucial in light of those facts.
A study conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety reports SABs which include head protection can decrease deaths from side-impact crashes up to 45%. The majority of deaths in a side collision are a result of head injuries when the driver's (or passenger's) head smashes into the window.
Another benefit any SAB: it is designed to stay inflated longer than a front air bag. This will help if the car rolls over after the initial impact.
Similar to the dangers of front air bags to children, SABs can also cause injury to a small child or infant because the child doesn't have the large size of body the bag is designed to protect. That means the bag can hit them at intense speeds in more vulnerable areas of the body, including the neck and head.
Because SABs aren't standard equipment yet, there are no real guidelines about activating SABs in new cars. Some SABs are more safe for children than others, because part of the safety issue depends on what type of SAB it is. If you have children, consider consulting a specialist from your car's manufacturer. You can usually deactivate the rear-seat air bags, or get information to ease your mind about the safety of the SABs you have.
As always, never allow infants or children under the age of 12 to ride in the front passenger seat of the car.
Find further facts and advice about SABs on the following sites:
- Frequently Asked Questions about Side-Impact Air Bags, sponsored by SaferCar.gov. This site includes a listing of major car manufacturers and phone numbers so you can consult an expert about your particular vehicle model and the SAB safety issues.
- The History of Airbags offers a brief overview of the safety feature, including how they work.
- General FAQs about air bags, provided by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
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