In an auto accident, an airbag can save your life.  In fact, airbags save about 400 lives a year.  But airbags can also cause injury if you don’t take the proper safety precautions.


First, airbags are not a substitute for a safety belt.  Without a safety belt, the deployment of an air-bag can cause serious injuries or even death.  Often, in an accident, the crash is immediately preceded by hard braking.  In these cases, the unbelted passenger will slide forward in his seat toward the airbag.  Because an airbag takes only 1/20 of a second to deploy, its force can be enough to snap the neck of a passenger who has slid too far forward.


Second, children under the age of 12 should not be allowed to ride in the front seat of a vehicle.  Children 12 and younger are safest when seated in the back seat of the car.  Again, the force of airbag deployment can be fatal to younger children who may not have fully developed muscles strong enough to withstand the blast. 


In a pickup truck, where there may not be a back seat for the child, parents should take the following steps to ensure safety:

-          Ensure that the child is properly restrained according to age and size

-          Slide the seat back as far as possible

-          Make sure the child is not leaning forward during the drive

-          If the vehicle is equipped with an ON-OFF switch for the airbag, set it to OFF.


Airbag ON-OFF switches can be installed in vehicles if the driver or a passenger falls into one of the following four categories:

-          Medical condition where the risks of deploying an air bag exceed the risk of impacting the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield

-          Individuals who cannot position themselves to properly operate the vehicle with breastbone at least 10 inches back from the center of the steering wheel air bag cover

-          Individuals with the need to transport an infant in a rear-facing child restraint in the front seat because the vehicle lacks a back seat

-          Individuals who need to carry a child one to twelve years old in the front seat because of the lack of a back seat.


The federal government is also requiring that all vehicles manufactured after 2013 be equipped with side curtain airbags.  These airbags will provide head and torso protection in the event of a side-impact crash.  The NHTSA expects that side curtain airbags will save 300 lives and prevent another 360 serious injuries each year.  The estimated cost of this safety improvement is a mere $33 a vehicle.