Airbags combined with seat belts effectively reduced spinal injuries from automobile accidents


Dec 28 - Jan 05, 2003 

Seat belts became available in new cars during the early 1970's. Shoulder belts followed shortly thereafter. Beginning in 1985 car manufacturers offered airbags as part of a 'supplemental restraint' system SRS in automobiles. Today most top of the line car-makers provide air bags as a SRS with primary being the seat belt. The fact is - airbags combined with seat belts (lap and shoulder belt) do save lives and help prevent more serious injury.

Results from an eight-year study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was presented at an annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Researchers found airbags combined with seat belts effectively reduced spinal injuries from automobile accidents.

Airbags were never designed to replace seat belts. That is why an airbag is called a 'supplemental restraint'. When the airbag deploys the seat belt helps protect the occupant by providing body support and preventing occupant ejection. The airbag creates a cushion between the occupant and the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield or other surfaces. Airbags are designed to protect the head, neck and chest.

The drivers must put 10 inches between their breastbone and the steering wheel to prevent injury

from airbag deployment. The risk zone for drivers occurs during the first two to three inches of airbag inflation. Ten inches is a good safety margin.

Children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat properly restrained. If a child must ride in the passenger's front seat, it is suggested that the seat be moved as far back from the airbag as possible. The seat and shoulder belts should be secure about the child. If necessary, provide a booster seat. Never allow children to ride in the laps of other passengers!

Although many motor vehicle accidents cannot be prevented, drivers and passengers can do something to reduce the risk for spinal injury. Combining airbags with properly adjusted seat and shoulder belts is a good start.

Air bags are only useful in frontal crashes, so it is not a good idea to skip your seat belt because you have an air bag. Air bags provide very effective protection in frontal crashes, inflating instantly to protect the driver or passenger that has an air bag. They spread the impact of the crash over the individual's head and chest and protect fragile body parts from the car's hard surfaces. Many basic improvements have been introduced into cars in recent years. These include anti-burst door latches, safety glass, energy-absorbing steering wheels and columns, head restraints and various seat belt systems. The benefits of the three-point seat belts have been firmly established: Studies have proven that the risk of serious or fatal injury to front seat passengers is reduced by 45-55% through the use of seatbelts. They work by limiting movement of the body, when your vehicle has a sudden change of speed or direction and keep you positioned in your seat, so you don't bounce around or get thrown from your vehicle. This positioning is also what is used to increase the effectiveness of the Airbag.

There is some misconception that airbags alone will protect you, however, airbags were designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts. Airbags are Supplemental Restraint Systems, thus the SRS on the cover. They are not meant to function alone as they are a passive safety device that supplements seat belts. Modern seat belts have the shoulder belt attached to the end of the buckle which runs up the side of the vehicle to an anchor point behind the front seat and contain a pretensioner.

When you buckle up you pull the belt across your body and insert the belt into the receiver in the middle of the car. Wearing your Seat belts keeps you in the best position to benefit from the Airbag when a collision occurs. To add to that, airbags are not intended to be activated in every accident. It is only when the vehicle is involved in a frontal collision somewhere in the vicinity of at least 15-20 mph, a number of things happen very quickly. The sudden deceleration of your vehicle causes 2 sensors to send an electrical signal to the diagnostic module.

The diagnostic module self tests to confirm that a crash event is taking place, and then it allows the signal to trigger the airbag deployment. It is important to note that airbags are not designed to inflate if the car is subjected to a side or rear impact or if it rolls over, because forward deceleration is absent in such situations. Hence to summarize, airbags deploy only when you really need them.

At this point it is important to highlight the significance of seat belts and proper seat position. Various studies and statistics have clearly shown that seat belts are the most effective way of saving lives and preventing serious injury in case of collisions. SRS Airbags only supplement seatbelts, as the name implies. An occupant in the front seat who is sitting too close to the deploying airbag may risk being bruised or thrown backward by an inflating airbag. That is why it is of utmost importance to make sure that one is wearing a seat belt and sitting upright, well back in the seat, in full contact with the seatback.

Extra care is required when children are riding in cars equipped with SRS Airbags, as it is dangerous to put a child in the front seat either in a child seat or otherwise. An unrestrained child or a rear facing baby seat in the front may result in a possibly fatal outcome, incase of a collision whereby the airbag is deployed, as the baby will be forcefully thrown backward. The safest way for an infant or small child to ride in a car is in a baby seat that is properly strapped to the rear seat.