Safest seating distance from the airbag

Our 17-year-old daughter drives a 2015 Toyota Corolla. She likes to sit close to the steering wheel. We measured the distance between the center of the wheel and her chest to be 13 inches. I have read that the NHTSA has recommended at least 10 inches between the steering wheel and the driver, but also read that, when deployed, the air bag moves toward the driver at 200 miles per hour for 12-18 inches. Is 13 inches a safe enough distance to be seated from the wheel?

When your daughter plants her butt in the drivers’ seat, the vehicle knows where she’s positioned.

Not to worry.



As @Tester says not to worry. The distance is to allow the air bag to fully inflate, at 13 inches your daughter has 3 inches to spare. This does not sound like much but if you take a ruler in a car and measure how much (actually how little) spare room you have all around, you will be surprised. The most important thing to do is to wear the seat belt. With a seat belt on the occupant is held in place and does not enter the inflation zone. They are also kept in the car instead of being tossed out on the pavement at highway speed.


Instead of being concerned about the distance to the steering wheel look and see if she has her arm movement constricted from being to close and if she has a safe position of her feet. Also more important is how close she follows the vehicle in front of her and how attentive she is to vehicles around her . Accidents happen but more aware she is the less of a chance she will need the airbag.

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If she is too far from the brake pedal, that is a lot less safe. The biggest safety factor in you car is the cushion of air you keep around it.


If she leans off the seat back when she drives, tell her to stop it. It isn’t safe. If the airbag deploys in an accident, it will slam her into the seatback. Imagine the bad things that can cause.

With your daughter sitting in the car, have her reach both arms straight out and place them on the top of the steering wheel. Her arms should touch just behind her wrists. Look to her feet, with her foot on the brake, her knee should be bent enough to fully depress the brake without her leg going straight. Have he push the pedal really hard so you can see.

Adjust the seat base and seat back so both her legs and arms are bent and relaxed when she drives. Then measure the distance.

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+1 to Mustangman’s comments.
In my experience, drivers who feel insecure behind the wheel tend to sit closer to the steering wheel than they need to. In other words, they want to sit closer to the wheel than they need to, as a result of their insecurity about driving.

When someone sits too close to the steering wheel, he/she actually has less ability to steer in situations that require fast evasive maneuvering. So, the OP should follow Mustangman’s advice, and determine if the daughter actually needs to sit as close to the wheel as she is choosing to do.


Very good point!

Even if the daughter is 5 feet tall, she should still be able to achieve at least the 10 inch minimum. She doesn’t need to lean forward to see the 20 feet in front of the car. That doesn’t matter, what matters is 200 feet in front!

I would have to agree with many of the comments thus far.

I have never been a proponent of the “too close to the wheel” crowd… imho it is incorrect and it is dangerous. You cannot steer properly or quickly enough at times that dictate this.

I guess it all depends on her reach to the pedals and then move on to how far she can get away from that wheel. However Ive seen some fairly short drivers have no problem getting distance from the steering wheel so… try to induce more space than less from that wheel. Personally 13 inches, seems way too close for comfort and I have little doubt you could induce a few more inches.

Distance, in fact may help her relax a little more… too close personally makes me nervous just observing it and ive seen mistakes being made at that distance where the driver got in their own way in “quick to react” situations that i would induce in, say, an empty snow covered parking lot… Im silly like that i know but… this is how i was basically taught “stunt” driving when i was about 14 or so…

Try to induce a little more space between your precious cargo and that steering wheel, you will both benefit i think.

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Agree 13 inches seem’s to close I have not measured the distance at a glance it look’s like more but my wife is 4 foot 11 inches tall and has to have the as far forward as possiple to reach the pedal’s myself on the other hand am 6 ft 2 inches tall and need the seat as far back as possible I have been in a few car;s that I could not get the seat back far enough that I felt too uncomfortable to drive and sill be safe.