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Air they work?

I see many fatalities in head on car collisions in the newspapers…they never mention air bags but will often state the occupant was not wearing a seat belt…why do they not mention if the air bags deployed? Does anyone know the story on these…how often they deploy and if they prevent deaths or not? Or cause their own injuries?

It does seem as though there are agendas in most news sources and throwing fault and success at the use of seatbelts is a big one. Possibly because it has been pushed so strongly by the NHTSA. And on the other hand air bags are being down played possibly due to the ongoing situation with Takata and many auto manufacturers. All in all “our” best interest isn’t necessarilyy the greatest concern for those in the news business. Profits from advertising is ahead of everything else. As it should be(?) according to many.

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Seatbelts restrict your movement fwd and keep you centered on the air bag when it deploys. Airbags cushion that movement even more and keep you off the steering wheel. They work in tandem.

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A large percentage of unbelted fatalities here in Oklahoma is from people being ejected partially or completely. I also read about a lot of roll over wrecks. Air bags can’t be faulted for those.
My wife had young man pull in front of her and she turned his pickup upside down. Her air bags worked and the seat belt kept her where the bags could do what they are designed to do at a 45 MPH speed.
The answer is Yes they work but every situation is different.

Edit: The reporting of an accident can state if seat belts were in use because that is easily determined. Air bag deployment statement might be best left out so if litigation is involved the argument as whether the bags deployed properly or not can be avoided.


I truly believe you’d see far, far more fatalities without airbags, seatbelts or not.
However, remember that airbags were designed to be used in conjunction with seatbelts. Those combined along with structures designed to absorb energy in a controlled manner by the cars’ front and rear ends and transfer energy over and around the passenger cabin rather than into it I believe make cars far, far better at protecting occupants than could have been dreamed of 50 years ago. I’ve seen countless videos of countless crash test, and they really do work. There are even videos of crashes between full size cars from eras past crashing head on in tests with modern cars, and the difference is dramatic. Anyone in the old car would surely have been killed, and based on the technical evidence (crash dummies with accelerometers) someone in the newer car would not have sustained serious injury.

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Air bags might not be needed if passengers used six point harnesses. It seems to me that six point harnesses would be difficult to fit universally, and many people would likely not use them because they are difficult to get into and out of. Additionally, imagine the difficulty of using the two straps between the legs if a passenger wears just about any dress or skirt. The currently used belt requires one click, not up to six, and is usually easy to do. This does mean that the belt constrains only one shoulder, and could lead to injury in high energy crashes. Air bags prevent body movement that the three point belt cannot. If the seatbelt isn’t used, the passenger can slide beneath the chest air bag, and that can be bad news. Belts and bags together do the job.

I think you’ve identified the problem with six-point harnesses beautifully.
And using them would be even much more difficult in the back seats on most cars.

I’m an advocate of air bags. I trueiy think they save lives. And I believe they substantially reduce injuries.

As fond of my memories are of my old '64 Fairlane, and as solid as that car was, including the solid steel dashboard (a real skull crusher), I would not want to get in a headon accident with it…
I doubt if I could have dented that dashboard with a 3-pound sledgehammer!

Is there a particular reason you’re asking?

Were you in an accident, and your airbag didn’t deploy, and you want to know why?

Are you merely curious?

Several years ago, a man showed up at the Benz dealer, and mentioned he was in an accident, and his airbags did not deploy. He CLEARLY indicated he was looking to sue, and collect a fat payday out of this incident. I merely listened and said he should see the service director, because I wasn’t in a position to talk to him about this. I had a bad feeling this guy was trying to collect money he wasn’t entitled to, so to speak

I am NOT implying you fall into this category. I am merely mentioning that there ARE devious people out there, who are constantly scheming to get money, which they don’t deserve

I will say a few things . . . not every impact is severe enough to automatically warrant airbag deployment. Certain thresholds must be met and/or exceeded, and I’m not that great at explaining such things

I love my brother dearly, but he’s a very bad driver. He’s constantly speeding, talking on the phone, texting, not paying attention, etc. He’s had several at-fault accidents. In one incident, the front of his car was flattened, and his face would have been crushed, if not for the airbag. Fortunately, he walked away, with merely a few bruises and frazzled nerves

As far as I’m concerned they work . . . but only in conjunction with being buckled in, as has already been stated

On some cars the air bag will not deploy if the seat belt is not secured. If you are held in the proper position with the seat belt the air bag helps a lot. It will keep you from doing a face plant on the steering wheel. If you do not have your seat belt on and start to move around due to the forces of a collision and are out of position, an air bag can seriously injure you. The cars computer calculates speed, deceleration, direction etc to determine if the air bag should deploy. If you are re ended they won’t go off, a low speed front end won’t set them off.

Using seat belts and having air bags saves a lot of lives. You may still be injured but you have a chance of survival.

My wife had a head-on driving a subcompact car with airbags being hit by an older mid-size coupe running about 45 mph. A big hit. Her car suffered rather significant damage to the front. She escaped with no real injury except slight burns from the airbag exhaust.

A close friend got T-boned by a similar sized car running about 35-40 mph. She broke her sternum and no airbags deployed. She was greatly confused about the lack of airbags, but the car did not have side airbags. I explained to her that because it was a side hit, the bag didn’t trigger because it would not be helpful in this type accident. The car was totaled.

Both ladies were wearing seatbelts.

My conclusion: Yes, airbags do prevent injuries WITH the proper use of seatbelts. They won’t save you from EVERY accident, no safety device can.


That is true, but I don’t think that the problems associated with that Takata situation had to do with non-deployment of airbags. IIRC, the “Takata problem” has to do with sharp metal shards being discharged, along with the airbag.

Quite a few years ago, Jeeps were recalled because their impact sensors were too sensitive, and merely hitting a curb could deploy the airbags in some cases. After vehicle mfrs developed and progressively improved the technology associated with impact sensors over the years, I don’t think that there are actually many cases of non-deployment of airbags in situations where they should have deployed.

I thought it was a Federal requirement that airbag be “passive restraint”: act without any action whatever by the driver.

I don’t believe it. I’d be delighted to see an authoritative link that substantiates this.

@meanjoe75fan, airbags has the symbol SRS on them, meaning Supplemental Restraint System. They are not the primary system, seat belts are.

Here is a link from Mercedes talking about light weight people or children in the front seat not being able to tell the computer that there is a person in the seat. Without a seat belt fastened the bag may or may not activate in an accident. If the belt is fastened the bag will activate. Drivers side bags almost always activate, the system reasonable assumes there is a driver in the car. Every manufacturer has a different algorithm to trip the bags. Best practice is to have your seat belt on.

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Input from the Occupant Classification Module to the Passive restraint Module is used to determine if the right front airbag should be on or off. The drivers airbag is not disabled due to the size of the driver.

The seat belt buckle switch, seat position sensor, impact sensors and deceleration sensor inputs are used to determine the airbag deployment rate with staged air bags. The seat belt buckle switch input to the passive restraint module is also used to enable the actuation of the seal belt pretensioner for that seat. I am not aware of a system that disables the airbag if a seat belt is not fastened.

So, in other words, the airbag may not inflate if the seat is empty, or the occupant is too light to survive inflation. You realize, we had to FIGHT for that? The initial legislation, airbags are required to go off, full stop. (I had to replace a windshield for a passenger airbag that went off on an empty seat.) Too many children got injured, and the law got changed.

Still confident the airbag has to go off if a full-sized adult is detected in the seat, belted or not. In fact, the whole point of airbags was that they were a safety system with a 100% “opt rate,” due to the fact that you didn’t have the ability to turn it off, short of disabling it.

The seat belt provided the sole form of passive restraint in our cars. Statistics
have shown that the use of seat belts has saved thousands of lives that might have been lost in collisions.

Seat belts are not really a “passive” restraint as they require action by the passenger. There were passive seatlbelts in the 90’s but they were really awful and dropped when airbags were installed.

Airbags are considered “passive” since they don’t rely on the passenger although they are pretty “active” when a crash occurs! They are designed to work WITH seatbelts, not without.

The question posted asked if airbags really work. I think there is ample evidence they do work - in combination with seatbelts.

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Having once upon a time worked in local TV news, I can tell you that we didn’t give a flying fig whether or not Takata made money when we reported on a wreck.

Similarly to @VOLVO_V70’s point about litigation, we didn’t care about that either. If Ford’s airbags didn’t deploy when they should have and Ford got sued over it, that was their problem, not ours.

However, as someone who knows a couple of things about cars, I personally was always careful not to leave the impression that the airbags should have gone off but didn’t if I mentioned them at all, because the airbags only fire if the computer determines that they will help the situation.

An airbag is a big explodey balloon thing that comes at your face at about warp 9, and being injured by an airbag is a real possibility, so you really only want the thing to go off if it’s needed to prevent an injury that’s more severe than the one the airbag might give you.

A lot of non-car people don’t realize this and so if you say “the airbag didn’t go off,” their assumption will be that the airbag malfunctioned rather than that the airbag didn’t go off because it shouldn’t have gone off.

At the outlets I worked for, we’d generally report what the first responders on scene would tell us. They’ll often mention if someone wasn’t wearing their seat belts, because getting into a major wreck without a seat belt on is a great way to die, and first responders get pretty frustrated when they roll up to a wreck that would have been survivable if people weren’t idiots.

But the end story is that airbags are designed to work with seat belts - if you’re not wearing your seat belt, the air bag is probably going to break some part of your body shortly before the rest of the car breaks some part(s) of your body.

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The mention of profits influencing the reporting of airbag deployment was with regard to the local dealers who sell the the cars. Whether the car was a Ford or Toyota a local news source likely has or seeks advertising from the dealers and would likely avoid anything negative about their cars while reporting that injuries were involved but reporting when seat belts weren’t used is somewhat of a public service announcement these days.