Advantages and Disadvantages of Passenger Car Airbags

October 31, 2013

Why do some drivers turn the passenger airbag off? Are airbags as crucial to safety as seat belts? Learn about the pros and cons of passenger airbags.

Passenger Airbag

The Advantages of Having Passenger Car Airbags

The main advantage of having car airbags for your passengers is that they provide an additional level of protection in the event of a car accident. This added protection can be the difference in some circumstances between life and death.

Risks of Airbag Deployment versus Risk of Injury or Death

Although some question the overall safety of vehicle airbags because of the instances of chest injuries and other impact injuries due to the nature of an airbag's deployment, these risks are significantly lower than the risk of serious injury or death that may occur if the passenger is unprotected. Even with the protection a seatbelt and vehicle restraint system provides in the event of a crash, the chance of surviving a serious crash with airbags increase significantly.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Data

Information provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that cars with passenger airbags, along with side impact airbag, reduce significantly the number of deaths due to auto accidents. The reduction for regular passenger vehicles was around 37 percent for the year 2006. In sports utility vehicles, this reduction was 52 percent. That is a significant factor when considering the importance of having passenger car airbags.

Lower Insurance Rates for Passenger Airbags

Insurance rates are lower for cars that have a variety of airbags, including those that protect the car from car impact accidents and protect the passenger as well as the driver. The savings can result in a significant reduction in premiums paid by the driver and provide an incentive to shop for a vehicle that includes both passenger and side impact airbags.

Check out our Top 6 Cars Recommended for Safety >>

Disadvantages of Having Passenger Car Airbags

Unfortunately, these safety tools can have some pretty significant liabilities.

Potential Injury

The biggest negative to airbags is that, though they are designed to protect, deploying airbags can actually injure passengers in some situations. The impact of an airbag can hurt a passenger who is improperly positioned. Deployment injuries can be most harmful to children and infants. Types of injuries from airbags include chest injuries, concussions and whiplash.

Safety advocates recommend against individuals under 12 riding in a front seat with airbags. Also, drivers are cautioned against placing rear-facing infant seats in the front seat with an airbag.

For adults, sit at least 10 to 12 inches away from the airbag to minimize the impact if it should be deployed. It's very important to use seat belts along with airbags. This helps cut down on potential airbag injuries for both drivers and passengers.

Resetting Airbags

After airbags have been deployed, they may be difficult to re-position for the next deployment. You may spend substantial money at a shop getting passenger airbags reset. Again, if there is only one occupant in the car, a multiple airbag deployment can be a waste of money.

Is the Passenger Airbag Truly Safe?

To help address issues with airbag safety, aside from recommending the use of seat belts, auto makers are also looking at how to be proactive in helping passengers benefit from passenger side airbags instead of being harmed by them. For example, many late model Honda Civic sedans and other Honda vehicles come with an optional or standard Front Side Airbag system that features what Honda calls Passenger-Side Occupant Position Detection. This system uses devices to monitor the positioning of the passenger. It is intended to prevent the kind of airbag deployment that can cause injury. You can look for these kinds of systems for sale in modern cars and trucks for helping to optimize the use of airbags as premium safety tools and to deal with the potential of these features to become a hazard instead of a benefit.

Automobile airbags have been a critical advance in driver and passenger safety, but they can cause injury or even death if not used properly.

Ten years ago, about 100 children were still being killed each year by sitting in the front seat of cars with passenger airbags. These children were usually killed because of improperly fastened seat belts or because they weren't wearing seat belts. Following the federal guidelines for airbag safety to reduce death from airbags now requires that you don't allow babies or small children in the front passenger seat, or older children, up to around 12-years-old, without a booster seat. Deaths also have occurred when older children are in the front seat but only waist-belted (didn't use the shoulder belt). Most cars these days have side impact airbags in the back seat, which the federal government deems safe for children. Needless to say, sitting in the back seat will always be safer for children than risking the danger of being harmed by front-seat passenger airbags.

It's not just children who are at risk from airbags, however, which deploy at up to 200 miles per hour. Therefore, to ensure their effective use as well as your own safety in the passenger seat, simply follow some safety rules for adults in the front passenger seat. First, you must wear your seat belt. You must sit at a safe distance from the dashboard. The closer to the dashboard, the more potential for harm, as if you are too close, the airbag doesn't have time or space to deploy properly. Other dangers that are present with passenger airbags include deploying at low impacts, or not deploying when they should during high-impact collisions.

Still, statistics show that passenger airbags have saved many more lives than they have harmed. While passenger airbags may be linked to some injury or death, chances are you will be safer using them, rather than not.

Related Questions and Answers

Is Passenger Air Bag Packaging the Reason Why Kids Can't Sit in the Front Seat?

Air bag packaging is chief among several reasons why kids can't sit in the front seat. Air bag packaging is released at a very high speed, which can cause head and neck injuries to a kid's growing body. The deceleration caused by air bag packaging can be more extreme than the forces experienced in the car crash itself. In addition to air bag packaging, the rear seat is also safer in the sense that objects are less likely to enter the rear seat of a vehicle during a crash. The hard plastic dashboard of a vehicle is also averted by putting kids in the back seat.

How Fast Do You Have to Be Going for Vehicle Air Bags to be Deployed?

A vehicle must strike an inanimate object like a solid barrier between a speed of 8 and 14 miles per hour for vehicle air bags to be deployed. However, the true vehicle speed varies, as vehicle air bags deployment is dependent on the force of deceleration in a frontal collision. In this sense, a head-on collision may cause vehicle air bags to go off at a lower speed, as two vehicles moving in opposite directions result in increased deceleration when frontal contact is made. Vehicles air bags are designed to go off only in frontal collisions, so regardless of speed, they are not deployed in side, rear or rollover crashes.

Do Automobile Air Bags Deploy If You Are Driving in Reverse?

No, automobile air bags do not deploy if you are driving in reverse. As an impact made while driving in reverse would be to the rear bumper, automobile air bags are not designed to deploy in such a case. Automobile air bags deploy in frontal collisions when the deceleration of the vehicle is equivalent to that experienced when striking a solid barrier like a wall at a speed ranging from 8 to 14 miles per hour. However, as real world crashes are rarely straight into solid barriers, the actual speed that must be reached for automobile air bags to deploy varies based on the metrics of the crash.

Is Airbag Repair Just as Safe as Airbag Replacement?

Yes, airbag repair is safe, so long as their airbags are taken from a car in which they have not deployed. Airbag repair using previously deployed airbags is not safe. Repairing a deployed airbag using a used unit can save you money over purchasing a new airbag when your vehicle has been in an accident. When having airbag repair completed at a repair shop or car dealership, ask to see if they can complete airbag repair with used models to save you money. In any case, airbag repair or replacement is necessary to ensure ongoing safety in the event your vehicle has been involved in an accident.