Vehicle Airbags

Air Bags and Children


Air Bags and Children

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends placing all children 12 years old and younger in the back seat. This is the safest place in the vehicle. Each child should be properly restrained using a child safety seat or safety belt, depending on his or her size. NEVER put an infant in the front seat of a passenger side air bag equipped vehicle.

If you have no choice but to put a child in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with air bags:

  • The seat needs to be pushed all the way back
  • The child needs to sit with his/her back against the seat back and
  • The child should be buckled securely with minimal belt slack

This will reduce the forward movement in a crash and maximize air bag effectiveness.

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Air Bags and Short, Elderly or Pregnant Persons

ALL drivers and passengers should do the following:

  • Always buckle-up with slack at a minimum
  • Sit as far back as possible, tilting the seat slightly rearward
  • Adjust the tilt steering wheel toward the chest
  • Hold the steering wheel from the sides

Short, pregnant or elderly vehicle occupants who follow these recommendations will maximize the life saving benefits of air bags and safety belts.

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Why are air bags dangerous to children age 12 and under?

Air bags inflate at speeds up to 200 mph. That blast of energy can severely hurt or kill passengers and drivers who are too close to the air bag. An infant's head in a rear facing safety seat is directly in front of the air bag as it breaks through the dashboard and instantly inflates. Even some forward facing child safety seats could possibly place the child within range of the air bag before it is fully inflated. Also, if a child is unbelted, or too small for the lap and shoulder belts to fit properly, or wriggling around or leaning forward, there is a danger that the child will be too close to the dashboard during that instant that the air bag begins to inflate.

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How can an air bag work so well for adults, but hurt children in the front passenger seat?

An average size adult who is correctly belted is not likely to come in contact with the air bag until it is fully inflated. A fully inflated air bag spreads the force of the crash across a wide area of the body. Even an unbelted adult will probably come in contact with the air bag at the chest area after the air bag has at least partially inflated. For greatest protection, both the driver and front passengers should be correctly belted and the seats moved back as far as practical to allow ample space for the air bag to expand. Unbelted or improperly belted children can easily slide off of the seat during pre-crash braking, throwing them against the dashboard where the air bag cans strike them on the head or neck with tremendous force before it is fully inflated. The air bag only inflates in front end crashes and collapses immediately. For protection in all types of collisions, it is very important to always use both the lap and shoulder belts.

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Is it true that a passenger can be smothered by an air bag?

NO! The injuries that occur are caused by the inflating bag hitting the head and neck of an out of position passenger or the inflating bag hitting the back of an infant seat behind a baby's head. The air bag loses its air right after it inflates, so the stiff fabric does not remain over the passenger's face.

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Courtesy of Clay Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department