A blink of an eye usually takes about 300 to 400 miliseconds. An airbag in a car explodes out of its housing in just half that time, at speeds of up to 322 km/h. Contrary to popular opinion; airbags are far from being a cosy pillow.
In fact, airbags are actually very dangerous projectiles and when not used properly, it can result in serious injuries and even deaths. Airbags are designed to only deploy as a last resort. This is the reason we always say active safety features like ABS and ESC are far more important than passive safety features like airbags, which are only used as a last resort.
The force of an airbag deployment is so strong that it often cracks the windscreen when deployed, as often the case with a front passenger airbag located close to the front windscreen. The sound of an exploding airbag is so loud that it can cause temporary ringing the ear and in some cases, the hot propellant gas may cause skin burns.
Thus, car companies take great care in ensuring that the airbags do not deploy unless absolutely necessary.
Most modern cars sold today are equipped with airbags. However, a quick glance at many drivers on the road suggests that many are either ignorant or choose to ignore some basic guidelines of operating a vehicle equipped with airbags.
Here are some tips on proper use of airbags.
1. Observe A Correct Driving Position
As mentioned earlier, airbags inflate with considerable force so don't sit too near to an airbag's inflation point. For a driver, position yourself about 25 cm away from the steering wheel. Adjust your seat height and backrest so your wrist touches the top part of the steering wheel while keeping your shoulders firmly touching the backrest.
2. Always Wear Your Seatbelts And Avoid Fitting Any Accessories On It
Always wear a seatbelt and never use a seatbelt stopper clip. Modern seatbelts are equipped with Emergency Locking Retractors (ELR) and Force Limiters. In the event of an accident, these seatbelts will quickly retract and strap an occupant down to the seat, before relaxing slightly once it is safe for the occupant to hit the airbag. All these will take place faster than a blink of an eye so do not put any objects that will obstruct the seatbelt's operation.
Never use a seatbelt stopper clip. It interferes with the ability of a seatbelt to rapidly retract and defeats the purpose of having a seatbelt, possibly causing serious airbag inflation related injuries.
Modern airbags are designed to accommodate pregnant women in various stages of pregnancy, but proper use of seatbelts must be observed at all times, as illustrated in the image below.
3. Decorative / Religious Ornaments On The Dashboard
Never place any objects on the dashboard. This includes decorative items, religious ornaments and even holders for mobile GPS or cellular phone. In the event of an accident, these items can become deadly projectiles.
Have a look at what's on your dashboard. Now imagine any of these objects smashing into your face at 322 km/h.
Even objects placed away from an airbag deployment area can cause serious injuries in the event of an accident. All loose items must be safely secured in the glovebox or centre console box.
4. Side Airbags And Coat Hangers
In cars equipped with side or curtain airbags, do not attach anything to areas such as a door, windshield glass, side door glass, front or rear pillar, and assist grip.
The presence of any objects may obstruct the deployment of an airbag. Sharp objects like coat hangers hanging from the assist grip and coat hook can become potentially fatal projectiles in the event that a side curtain airbag is deployed.
If you have to carry a pressed jacket or a long dress, lay it flat on the rear passenger seat.
5. Travelling With Children
The force of an exploding airbag has been known to be powerful enough to even decapitate an infant's head! Never let an infant or a young child ride at the front seat.
If a child seat has to be installed on the front seat, make sure the vehicle has an option to deactivate the front passenger airbag. Read your vehicle's owner's manual for instructions on how to disable the front passenger airbag.
Ideally, infants and young children should be secured in a rear-facing child seat, secured on the centre back seat.
Refer to your vehicle's owner's manual for more specific instructions on the necessary precautions.
You might also want to read: Clearing The Confusion On Airbag Fitment Regulations.