Seat belts and airbags


I have seen and heard comments about seat belts and airbags. All I know is the young man who ran a stop sign and was broadsided by my wife who was doing about 45MPH only received a few bruises. My wife’s Lincoln MKZ was totaled and she had a sore knee for a couple of days. I want those safety devices on any vehicle we have. Here in Oklahoma as elsewhere you read too many times about young people dying because they were ejected from a vehicle in a wreck.


These days, the ejected passengers usually weren’t wearing their seat belts.


Actually I’d like hard data on what effect airbags have on mortality vs no airbags when the occupant, in both cases, is belted. The readily available mortality data assumes “typical motorist”: n% belted, and (100-n)% unbelted.

This is the relevant safety metric for me, as I never drive/ride unbelted, thus unbelted statistics are rather beside the point.

It stands to reason that the difference between zero restraint devices and one is greater than between one and two. I don’t doubt SOME increase in safety for belted occupants, but I rather suspect the big airbag benefit is as a redundant safety device for those motorists who can’t be arsed to buckle up!


Side impact airbags are not mandated by the federal government, so if you want them, you’ll have to buy a car that comes with them.

@jtsanders: “These days, the ejected passengers usually weren’t wearing their seat belts.”

That’s true, but sometimes the impact is so hard that it splits a car in half, ejecting belted passengers sitting in the back seat. Passengers can also be ejected from open vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler even if they’re wearing seatbelts.


Side airbags are a huge benefit for belted passengers, major reduction in side crash force to the head.

I won’t buy a car without side airbags.


The subject of seat belts frequently brings out the flat earth crowd who tell you that “It’s better to be thrown clear in an accident than it is to be trapped in your car”.

Those people obviously live in a world where the pavement is covered with Tempurpedic mattresses, Boston Cream Pie, and sofa cushions. The rest of us live in a world where there are steel guardrails, the pavement is littered with broken glass, and speeding vehicles–including 18-wheelers–are driving in close proximity.


I would hope to stay in the vehicle. Back in the late 80’s I had roll over come in. It was a Toyota pickup. It had a sunroof in it, aftermarket type. The guy that was driving it was wearing his seatbelt. The roll force was so great that and he was a small guy it ejected him out thru the sunroof. He only lived because he landed on the phone wire. The seatbelt ripped the shin off his legs and the phone wire ripped off his shirt and some shin. Along with broke ribs and arm he was not that bad of shape.

I have seen vehicles come in over the years before and after airbags. Before: if you were lucky you walked in a day or so or you were in the hospital for week. After: you came in with the car on hook or after you were checked out at the hospital. The vehicles I seen with the front ends almost up to the windshield and the people walking away would amaze you. All thanks to airbags and seatbelts.


Airbags are designed to be used with seatbelts, and front airbags and seatbelts are mandatory on all vehicles sold in the U.S. As already mentioned, many vehicles today have side airbags too. I’m sure that Consumer Reports New Car Preview will tell you which cars have what.

It’s fair to also say that large vehicles provide better protection than small vehicles. If your wife had been driving a Fiat 500 instead of a Lincoln MKZ, she just might have sustained more serious injuries.

There’s also the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which crash tests and rates cars for the feds as well as the actuaries. Visit their website for information on which cars fared the best in crash testing.


It’s a compromise. Some amount of air-bagging makes a car safer to drive and shouldn’t much affect reliability. But too many air bags can increase the car’s complexity and might in fact make the car less safe to drive. Wasn’t there a problem recently in the news where the air bags were hooked up backwards, so the right side would deploy when the collision occurred on the left side?


@Whitey, I imagine that if a car is split in half, the occupants would likely die anyway. It would take an incredible amount of force to split a car apart. It seems like much of that force would be transferred to the occupants.


@jtsanders, Could you imagine this? It’s from an article I posted in another thread.

As the 21-year-old driver pulled toward the intersection, the approaching headlights glinted only faintly in the distance.

"They were very far away,’’ Heather Meyer said later. "I didn’t even know what kind of car it was.’’

In that oncoming car: Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Frank McCurrie, racing to aid a fellow officer with a traffic stop. McCurrie hit the gas, accelerating from 24 to 87 mph in 24 seconds, and reached Meyer just as she turned left off Dixie Highway in Oakland Park.

The deputy’s Ford Crown Victoria T-boned the Honda Civic with such force it sliced the car in two behind the front seats. The front spun clockwise for more than 30 feet while the mangled rear hurtled into a swale 70 feet away.

"I couldn’t see very well because I was bleeding from my eye,’’ Meyer told investigators.

"But I remember I was the only person in the car afterwards.’’

Meyer’s 14-year-old stepsister, Cara Catlin, had been in the back seat. They found her body 37 feet from the point of impact.

And that traffic stop McCurrie was speeding to?

A burned-out tag light, sheriff’s records show.

The rookie deputy was fired. Now 23, he awaits trial on charges of vehicular homicide and reckless driving.

Based on this one case, it looks like your odds of surviving your car being split in half are 50%.


@GeorgeSanJose - “it’s a compromise” - not that I’m aware of. Those added airbags have been shown to greatly reduce injury in side crashes. I know of no reliability issues associated with them - do you?


Actually I’d like hard data on what effect airbags have on mortality vs no airbags when the occupant, in both cases, is belted. The readily available mortality data assumes “typical motorist”: n% belted, and (100-n)% unbelted.

Here’s hard data…

I know of no reliability issues associated with [air bags] - do you?

@Texases … I do recall hearing about a reliability problem with one manufacturer’s side airbags recently. The problem was that when the car was hit on the left side, the right side airbag deployed instead of the left side one. And visa versa.


I’d call that a defect, subject to recall. More stuff = more things to go wrong, sure, but the ‘tradeoff’ is so small, compared to the protection offered…

And Mike, there’s a large reduction in measured head trauma during crash tests with side airbags. I’ll rely on that to choose having them over not having them.

The steady reduction in traffic deaths over the last 50+years is tied to all these improvements, hard to single out which one did what, I imagine.