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Maximising The Effectiveness Of Airbags

3 min read

The success of airbag systems depends on precautions drivers and passengers take.

Airbag systems are built to save lives as they reduce the risk of fatalities during road accidents. Also known as Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) airbags, they work in tandem with the car’s seatbelts to offer occupants of the car additional protection in the event of a collision.

Airbags absorb impact and serve as cushions that prevent the driver and passengers from hitting the car’s interior surfaces. While these safety devices have been proven to prevent serious injury and save lives, much of their effectiveness hinges on the safety precautions taken by the car’s occupants.

Before you drive off, make sure you and all your passengers buckle their respective seat belts. This is non-negotiable, as seat belts restrain you and keep you from being flung about like a ragdoll. They keep you in optimal position so that you are sufficiently cushioned when airbags are deployed. In Singapore, it’s an offence for anyone 1.35m and taller not to a wear seat belt in a moving vehicle. It’s also illegal to modify or remove factory-fitted seat belts.

If you have a habit of driving with the steering wheel up close to your face, you should stop doing so. The distance between you and the steering wheel should be about 25cm or more to be safe. This is because the speed and force of the steering wheel airbag when deployed can cause injury if this safety distance is not observed. Tilt the steering wheel away from your face and push your seat back as far back as possible, but make sure your feet can reach the pedals comfortably and that your arms are at a relaxed angle when operating the steering wheel.

According to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, you should never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of your car in the presence of an active airbag. They also advise that children aged 12 years and younger should not be seated in the front. Though airbags are meant to save lives, the blunt force at which they inflate when activated pose a clear danger to the more fragile bodies of babies and young children seated in their line of fire.

The airbag system in your car consists of an airbag module, crash sensors and a diagnostic unit. If your airbag light remains lit but there has not been a crash, your airbag module may need to be fixed. Make sure to have it checked as soon as possible.

Airbags are designed for one-time use only; this is to ensure that they function optimally. Even a properly maintained and working airbag is designed to be deployed only in certain types of accidents. According to the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it really depends on the nature of the collision and where the vehicle was struck — a head-on collision of moderate to severe impact and being struck in the front bumper or front corners of your vehicle are more likely to activate the airbags; less likely to activate are certain types of rollover collisions, side or rear impact crashes.

Some advanced frontal airbag systems automatically shut off the relevant airbags if the sensors detect a small-stature person/child or no occupant in the seat. As with any car parts, the airbag sensors may fail to detect impact and deploy because of defective components or improper installation. Software failure and faulty wiring can interfere with the communication between the sensors and airbags as well.

Safety is paramount for you and your passengers. And even though our cars are now equipped with modern safety features, their effectiveness still depends on the additional precautions you take.