Is Your Car Full of Air?
The air I am referring to is the air in airbags. Airbags are a supplemental (secondary) restraint to the vehicle seat belt. They have saved many lives and reduced many injuries in car crashes. For the most optimum protection, a seat belt must be worn. The seat belt helps spread the crash forces over a larger portion of the body and across the strongest part of the body. Plus, it helps the occupant "ride down" the crash, reducing energy absorption.
Airbags have to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Standards and encompass an enormous amount of testing in all kinds of scenarios. Working together (Technical Working Group), auto makers go above and beyond the standards to include testing for high risk occupants; those who are smaller, out of position, unbelted, etc. Their efforts help reduce the risk of injury. These test protocols help manufacturers develop more technology to deploy airbags at slower speeds (with a suppression system), while still protecting the occupant who is out of position. For a list of which cars have been tested according to these voluntary protocols, read Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers (2010) A Guide for Parents.
How many airbags are in your vehicle? Some newer vehicles can have up to 10 airbags. Talk about "surround sound"! They cover the front passengers, their knees, the thorax area, the pelvic area and the head. The back seat airbags cover the thorax area and the head. In the new Ford Explorer, optional inflatable seats belts are available for the back seat occupants. GM is developing a new center seat airbag that will help protect a front seat occupant when they are hit from the far side of the vehicle.
Airbags and child restraints have always been a hot topic. There are no standards to test airbags with a child restraint. It can often confuse parents. Placing a rear-facing seat in front of an airbag is not advised by any manufacturer. There are numerous warnings against this practice both on the car seat and on the vehicle sun visor and in the manuals. Will a side curtain airbag affect an infant seat or a convertible seat rear-facing? Typically the side curtain airbag deploys above the positioned car seat.However, when a forward-facing car seat or booster seat is installed next to a side curtain airbag, there is insufficient data to suggest the airbag does not pose any risk. When it comes to the inflatable belts, most child restraint manufacturers do not allow installation of a car seat using this type of belt. Although, the technology is superior for protecting the back seat occupant without a car seat, CR manufacturers have not tested this installation. Always consult with the child restraint manufacturer about your particular seat. Diono applauds Ford for its advancement in occupant protection, but does not allow installation of the Radian, Monterey or SantaFe car seat with an inflatable seat belt. We look forward to further testing and data.
Regardless of how many airbags are in your car or where they are located, ALWAYS check the vehicle manual before installing a child's car seat. Be sure all passengers stay in position with their seat belt worn correctly to achieve optimum protection.
NHTSA also recommends: ALL children should use safety restraints appropriate for their age and size (this could be a child safety seat, a booster seat, or an adult seat belt). Children under 13 are safest sitting in the rear seat and properly restrained. To minimize injury risks, NHTSA recommends that children not lean or rest against chest-only or head/chest combination SABs (where the side airbag is stored). NHTSA has not seen any indication of risks to children from current roof-mounted airbags. Stay tuned for more innovation and technology for enhancing safety in motor vehicles.