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Short? Tall? An Airbag Can Seriously Hurt You

No one would argue for the removal of airbags from vehicles. They have saved too many lives over the years, more than 25,000 between 1975, when they were first used, to 2007. That’s an average of nearly 1,000 people per year, whose families are surely grateful for the invention of the airbag.

However, other studies are finding that airbags can actually cause injury, not simply prevent death. With the advanced technology of the airbag introduced into modern vehicles, an entirely new domain of law has sprung up as well, that of the lawyer willing to press charges for a client injured by an airbag’s deployment. Even if you are happy to have escaped many broken bones after a recent auto accident, thanks to your airbag’s deployment, you can still build a case for prosecution if an airbag inflates and injures your shoulder, chest, neck or face. If you believe that you have suffered from an airbag’s inflation, you can contact an airbag lawyer to determine if you have a case.

If you are shorter than average or taller than average, the likelihood of suffering an injury from an airbag’s deployment increase significantly. Many of the people who press airbag cases in court are either short or tall, and studies seem to indicate that if you have an unusual height, you would probably be better off riding in the back seat of a vehicle if you are a passenger.

These ideas are not built on conjecture, but on solid medical evidence. The most prominent study in this area was done by Dr. Craig Newgard for the Oregon Health and Science University. He looked at the injury statistics from 1995-2005 in a motor vehicle crash database in search of links between serious injury, airbag deployment and physical characteristics of drivers and passengers. The oft-cited study found these results:

  • About 2.5% of drivers and passengers were seriously injured in these recorded crashes.
  • Factoring in driver and passenger height and weight, airbags were only “modestly protective” for front seat passengers that were between 5’3” and 5’11”.
  • For passengers above 6’3” and under 4’11”, airbags actually increased the risk of injury. For the tall group, a 5% greater risk of serious injury resulted. For the short group, a 4% greater risk of injury occurred.
  • Weight did not impact the numbers, so don’t think that having an extra layer of “protection” will help when an airbag deploys into your body.
  • As a result of these findings, the common advice that no child under 12 should sit in the passenger’s front seat has been altered. Now, experts are saying that children 14 and under should always sit in the back.
  • The bottom line from the study? The distance from the airbag that a driver or passenger sits impacts the likelihood of an injury from its deployment. The ideal distance between the driver or passenger’s body and the surface from which the airbag will inflate is 12 inches.

Numerous other organizations and public safety officials have digested the numbers from Dr. Newgard’s study and come to similar conclusions. Despite the inclusion of so-called “smart” airbags in the study in certain models of cars, it can no longer be doubted that airbags are a hazard for people of short or tall stature. The “smart” airbags deploy with a force and size based on the driver or passenger’s weight, but with that criterion not a factor in the study’s findings, airbags probably need to be engineered to be “smart” in a different way—based on height, not weight.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is one organization that has kept a close eye on studies done regarding airbags. After looking at Dr. Newgard’s numbers, the NHTSA issued the following recommendations to reduce the chance of suffering an injury from an airbag deployement:

  • Wear a seatbelt, which is mandatory anyway in most states. Seatbelts, of course, help to maintain the distance between a driver or a passenger and the airbag when it is deployed, reducing the impact of the airbag when inflated suddenly.
  • Seat yourself as far away from the airbag as possible. The limit on this should be the distance that you can move your seat back and still control your vehicle easily by reaching the brake and gas pedals (and clutch pedal if you are driving a standard-transmission car). Obviously for the passenger, the seat should be moved back as far as possible, as long as someone in the rear seat is not extremely uncomfortable.
  • Short drivers should tilt their seat back as well as move their seat back. This will reduce the chance of injury from an airbag’s deployment.
  • All drivers should avoid leaning forward as they drive. This simply reduces the amount of space between driver and airbag, increasing the chance of injury.
  • As you drive, keep your arms out of the way of the airbag’s path. Hold the steering wheel on the side. Some experts now recommend a “9 and 3” grip on the wheel, as opposed to the “10 and 2” grip that was formerly recommended.

The bottom line? Drivers of short and tall stature need to take every precaution possible as they operate their vehicles because they are squarely in an at-risk group when it comes to airbag deployment. They need to reflect on where their seat is, the angle of their seat and do everythjng possible to maintain a 12-inch distance between their bodies and the steering wheel.

As for passengers, they need to either sit in the back of a vehicle or move the seat back as far as possible to decrease their chance of injury by airbag. People who realize that they are in an at-risk group in any endeavor understand that they need to take extra precaution in certain circumstances. With airbags installed all modern vehicles, short and tall people, both as drivers and passengers, need to be extra-careful to protect themselves.

If you are injured in a car accident, please contact an experienced  car accident lawyer who will protect your rights.  You may be entitled to financial compensation for economic damages as well as pain and suffering. Please note that strict time limits may apply.



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