Passenger-side airbags


My mother wants to give my late father’s 1991 Dodge Shadow to my son who is soon to receive his driver’s license. The car is in very good condition and very low mileage since it wasn’t driven much after he passed away. But the concern is that the car doesn’t have a passenger-side airbag (just one for the driver), so while my son would be protected, anyone riding with him would not have the same benefit.

My question is if the lack of a passenger-side airbag would be considered too risky nowadays (even assuming all passengers are properly wearing seat belts), and I’m wondering if we should pass on this car. I’ve tried to find any published data on whether passenger-side airbags make a significant safety difference, but haven’t found anything as yet.

Thanks in advance for the feedback.


Personally, I’m against airbags anyway. Prior to 1997 or so, airbags had a one stage deployment; that is, when there was a collision, regardless of severity, the airbag deployed with full force. A number of people were needlessly injured, including some smaller adults and children (there have been a few cases of children [kids under 10 or so] becoming decapitated when the airbag deployed.)

Now, airbags have been ‘detuned’ or made to deploy with less force. Many, if not all, also have multi-stage deployment; in a severe crash, the airbag deploys with full force (which is still less than the force used in the early '90’s.) In a minor crash, the airbag deploys with much less force. This new airbag system is certainly better, but again, airbags have caused needless injuries, most often from the powder coating burning occupants, or the airbag deploying when it shouldn’t, causing the driver to become injured, or if a non-driver airbag deploys, the driver loses control due to the sudden noise and smoke.

Other concerns with airbags: driver’s thumbs have been cut off when the driver’s airbag deploys. The plastic cover on the steering wheel flies out and up at high speed, and if the driver has his or her thumbs wrapped inside the steering wheel (as many of us do), the cover can, and has, severed the thumbs.
Also, many people think that airbags are a replacement for seatbelts. THIS IS WRONG! Airbags are a supplementary, or passive, restraint system. They are meant to supplement the seatbelts, not replace them. Indeed, airbags are designed to ‘protect’ occupants that are belted in. Unbelted occupants are at an even higher risk of airbag-related injuries.

So, is the 91 Shadow safe to drive because of no passenger airbag. Yes.

The most important considerations to improve safety are:

  2. Drive in a safe manner.
  4. Limit distractions (noise, talking, cell phones, other passengers.)
  6. For airbag equipped cars, sit no closer than 12 inches from the steering wheel or dashboard(in the case of passenger airbags.)
    And lastly:

The seatbelt is by far the most important safety device in a car (after the driver, of course.) If the Shadow has seatbelts for all passengers, then it’s fine.

Also, contrary maybe to popular belief, airbags do not prevent injuries, they can, however, reduce the severity of injuries.

In any case, a 91 Shadow is a good car for yourson to learn to drive in. It’s relatively small and low powered, and relatively efficient. The fact he’s getting from a trusted family member is an even bigger bonus. He’ll also have the opportunity to learn how to do basic auto repair, which will be necessary on a 16 year old car.

Instead of finding a car that’s covered in airbags, teach your son how to drive safely. Avoiding a collision is a HELL of a lot safer than having airbags.


Airbags are a SUPPLEMENTAL restraint system, and only function under a set of carefully defined circumstances. I would not allow airbags to decide ANYTHING for me in regards to a car purchase. I don’t car if a car has them or not. I’m a believer in SEAT BELTS, which have saved my neck several times, in cars equipped with airbags (which did not activate) and older cars that do not have airbags.

Those of old enough to remember have been driving for years without the “miracle” of airbags, and somehow we’ve managed to survive. If the car in question is in good shape, go ahead and get it. Just INSIST that all occupants wear their seat belts at all times.


Those of old enough to remember have been driving for years without the “miracle” of airbags

Some of us are old enoough to remember no seatbelts…and then seatbelts but no shoulder harnesses.

Airbags will help in a crash…but the BEST method is to ALWAYS USE A SEATBELT.


By all means, let your son drive this car. Your concern over passenger safety is commendable but (I’m trying to think of a better term here than “overkill” for the obvious reason). There is already so much to worry about when considering a used car for the family. The lack of this single feature should not be a consideration at all.


I think much of that is overconcern about airbags causing injury. Yes, they may cause injury, but properly used with seatbelts and proper driving position, they do improve safety significantly on average.

But your concerns bring up an important point. You should always drive with your hands at 9 and 3. Not only do you get the best control of the wheel at this position, but you keep your arms and hands out of the way of a deploying bag. Imagine if your hand was at 12 oclock on the wheel and the bag deployed straight into your arm.

And you don’t have to have the wheel in your face, either. I see people all the time driving down the road with their chin about 3 inches from the wheel because they’ve pulled the seat up that close. Not only is it unsafe to be that close to the wheel, airbags or not, but you lose all sorts of ability to control the car when you have your hands that close to your body…


I agree with most of the rest. Air bags are a very good addition to our tool box of safety equipment. However by far the seat belt is more important. Frankly I doubt if air bags would have ever become standard if everyone used their seat belts.

Note: Seat belts with air bags are safer than without. Air bags with seat belts are safer than without. Of the three possibilities the least safe is air bags alone.

Don’t worry. Worry most about the driver who is far more important than either the seat belt or air bag.



Airbags are a SUPPLEMENTAL restraint system, and only function under a set of carefully defined circumstances. I would not allow airbags to decide ANYTHING for me in regards to a car purchase. I don’t care if a car has them or not.
I would not buy a car without side and curtain airbags. They save lives in side impacts.

I like my head, spleen, and other body organs.