Understand Your Car's Airbags
Published On Feb 01, 2019 12:37 PM By Tushar
What are airbags, why do you need them and how do you use them correctly?
With awareness about car safety getting more widespread, many buyers have realized the benefit of having airbags in their cars. Some cars offer it for the driver, many for both front occupants and yet other cars have anywhere from four to ten! However, this technology isn’t very well understood. After all, your airbag is like insurance - you pay the premium for it but hope you never actually have to use it.
But since more cars, even from low budget segments, now offer this safety feature, it’s best to understand why it exists and how you should take advantage of the benefits it offers.
What Does An Airbag Do?
The name of the technology explains everything. Airbags are literally pouches that detonate and fill up with air (mainly nitrogen) in milliseconds to act as a barrier between you and the hard parts of the car’s interior your body may get in contact with, in the event of an accident.
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In an accident, the car experiences a sudden loss of speed but the momentum throws your body forward, raising the risk of your head/legs/arms/chest hitting the steering wheel, dashboard or other interior components. At high speeds, this can cause serious injury due to blunt force trauma or implement, which is why the airbag deploys, to put a cushion between your body and anything it may hit. It’s the difference between being thrown onto a marble floor vs being thrown onto a mattress.
However, airbags deploy in the fraction of a second and the calculations are very precise. Such is the force of the airbag’s deployment that it can injure the person it’s meant to protect if deployed improperly. This isn’t a problem for the car, as there are thousands of scenarios recreated before the on-board computer decides when to detonate and inflate the airbag. However, the occupants must ensure they’re doing the right things to use the airbag’s safety appropriately.
Seatbelts & Airbags
SRS or airbag, you will see one of these two words written where there’s an airbag integrated into the car. SRS refers to supplementary restraint system i.e. it supports the primary safety features of the car but is not a replacement for them.
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This means you must always wear your seatbelt. Why? It’s not that the airbag won’t deploy if you haven’t worn your seatbelt. It will irrespective. However, as mentioned before, SRS systems take into account the body movement of a person who has buckled up. Watch the test dummies in any NCAP crash test video and you see how the body is held back and not thrown into the dashboard or seat ahead. It is your seatbelt that controls the maximum forward movement and the airbag activates to support/supplement the primary protection offered by the seatbelt.
Remember, airbags deploy 4 times faster than the blink of an eye and fill up the air pouches with nitrogen at extremely high pressure. In fact, the deployment speed is quoted at 322kmph, close to the top speed of the Ferrari 458 Italia! So if your body is thrown into the airbag, instead of being held back by the seatbelt and coming into contact with the bag briefly, it could break your neck or damage vital organs. Airbags are like pillows in the event of an impact, but if someone hits you in the face hard enough with a pillow, even that can do some serious damage.
So yes, it doesn’t matter how many more advanced safety technologies come along, your seatbelt is one of the simplest yet most important safety devices.
Should I Change Any Driving Habits?
Of course, driving defensively and safely is the best bet but one quick tip has been introduced relatively recently. The most popular steering technique is to hold it at the 10 & 2 positions i.e. imagine your steering wheel is a clock face and grip your hands where 10 & 2 o'clock would be.
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However, that has changed after the advent of airbags, since holding it in that position would launch your arms straight into your face if the airbag deploys. Instead, hold it at 9 & 3, so you can still make turns easily and not have your arms turn into projectiles if the airbag inflates.
Also, as mentioned earlier, getting hit by an airbag is just better than hitting the car’s trim yourself. It’s no pleasant experience standalone and can cause injury if you are too close to it. Hence, avoid sitting too close to the steering wheel. A simple check is to put your arms over the steering wheel with your wrists resting on top of it. Your arms shouldn’t be place dead straight but should have an angle at the elbow, so you can maneuver the car easily. With this, driving is convenient and also safe.
Additionally, under no circumstances, should you allow the front passenger to place their feet on the dashboard. The force of the airbag is enough crush the body backwards and can easily prove fatal. Your feet stay in the footwell, period!
Will My Airbag deploy in ANY crash?
As per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a core division of the United States Department of Transportation, airbags are designed to deploy at speed of 12kmph and above. However, the car’s crash sensors take the ultimate decision as the force of impact, direction of impact & point of impact varies from accident to accident. This is why you will find incidents of airbag-equipped cars not deploying the feature.
Why Is There An Airbag Deactivation Switch?
There are certain situations where an airbag would do more harm than good. The main reason why this option exists is if you have a rearward-facing child seat mounted in the front passenger seat. It is always recommended for children to travel in the rear seat of a car but if circumstances leave no choice but for you to place them in a car seat attached in the front row, the passenger airbag must be deactivated.
This is because the airbag can force the seat to dislodge and cause the child to be thrown out of the seat. In cars equipped with this feature, you will spot a warning about this, usually on the passenger side sunshade or to the side of the dashboard, right next to the deactivation switch.
So with this knowledge of airbags and their safe use, make sure you have a safe and enjoyable drive.
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