The Dangers From Air Bags And Ways to Avoid Them
Natalie Smith of Pittsburgh says she likes her new 1996 Mazda Protege, but she worries about its air bag. The bag was designed to protect the average man, about 165 pounds and 5 foot 9 about 55 pounds heavier and 7 inches taller than Ms. Sm tommy hilfiger uk ith, and according to Government statistics, 19 ”short statured” people, most of whom were not wearing seat belts, have been killed by air bags in crashes that they otherwise could have survived.
So she asked her dealer to disconnect the bag, b tommy hilfiger uk ut was told that it would be illegal for him to do so.
Ms. Smith has not yet found anyone to disable the device for her. Nor has she found anyone who can tell her just what she ought to do and how her risk has changed since she replaced her previous car, which had no air bag.
The adoption of air bags by automobile manufacturers has created a complicated technology and policy problem for safety experts. ”The first rule in highway safety, as i tommy hilfiger uk n medicine, is do no harm,” said Charles A. Hurley, a spokesman for the National Safety Council, a nonprofit statistics gathering group. ”We don’t have the right in this country to impose risk on people without their knowledge and consent.”
But Mr. Hurley and others say it is not clear how much risk is being imposed. There have been more than 650,000 deployments since air bags came into use tommy hilfiger uk in the 1970’s, almost all of them doing far more good than harm, officials say, saving about 1,100 lives.
Because accident reports don’t usually include height, they do not know how short is too short or the number of short people who have been saved by air bags; but that figure could be many times greater than the 19 who were killed. Officials also know that 29 children in front passenger seats have been killed by air bags, including 9 in rear facing child seats; they do not know how many children and infants in such seats were saved by air bags.
It is impossible now to buy a new car without air bags. But it is possible to protect children and short adults from air bag deployment by having them sit in the back seat. If they must sit in the front, officials say, they should slide the car’s seat as far back as it will go.
”The reality is, these technologies simply don’t work in all situations,” said Mark L. Edwards, the managing director of traffic safety at the American Automobile Association. ”It’s a real problem right now for the Government. The last thing they want to do is put a warning label on that says, ‘This safety device may in fact be harmful to your health.’ But that’s what they’re faced with.”
But there are ways shorter people can reduce the risk, according to experts in the Government and from auto makers and consumer groups, and they offer a lesson for average size and taller people, too.
Drivers should try to stay as far from the wheel as is comfortable. The air bag rushes out of its housing at up to 200 miles an hour for a short distance 12 inches or so because, by Government regulation, it has to protect an unbelted average man before he hits the steering wheel.
Mr. Felrich’s organization argues that the air bag certification test should be changed to use a dummy in a seat belt, since about two thirds of front seat passengers are now belted. If the dummy were belted, the bag wouldn’t have to inflate so fast.
Shorter people in cars with air bags should wear seat belts. The belts will hold them back and away from the bags in a head on collision, auto experts say.
Shorter drivers can use pedal extenders. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommends two vendors for the devices, which fit on the brake and accelerator pedals. The company says that they can be installed by anyone handy with tools.
Chuck Secor, a manufacturer in Glendale, Calif., (818) 247 9246, sells Easy Rider Pedal Extensions, which he says are designed so they can be transferred from car to car, adjustable from two inches to five inches long. The gas pedal pad costs $65; the brake one $75.
This is not a complete solution, however, because the limiting factor will become the driver’s arm length.
Drivers should try holding the steering wheel at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions. This recommendation from safety officials, which keeps the arms apart to leave space for the air bag to inflate, runs counter to the driver education courses of the 1960’s and 70’s, which recommended the 10 and 2 positions.
Whatever their height, drivers should not steer with a hand at the 12 o’clock position. In that position, the inflating bag can break the driver’s arm, experts say.
The Government has issued special permits only six times to allow driver or passenger air bags to be disconnected, nearly all for medical reasons, like a child with breathing problems who must be seated near a parent.