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Airbag safety tips for shorter drivers

February 15, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan personal injury lawyer says drivers with shorter legs are at risk for serious airbag inflation injuries

Drive around one day and notice how many (usually) women drivers are sitting very close to the steering wheel. Not just women, but a great many elderly drivers – they seem to want to rest their chins right on the steering wheels – drive with their elbows splayed outwards like WWI pilots manning machine guns.

This got me thinking about just how dangerous it is for these drivers who sit this close to an airbag and the very foreseeable injuries they can sustain from an airbag if they’re involved in any type of car accident or front-end impact. Whether you’re an 80-year-old man or a 16-year old young woman, drivers who sit close to steering wheels are at serious risk for airbag inflation injuries.

Short drivers and airbag injuries – how close is too close?

Drivers who are under 5′-4″ tall tend to adjust their seats to the full forward position. This places their chests and heads too close to the steering wheel. The inflation of an airbag stored within the center of the steering wheel can move toward you at 200 miles per hour for 12 to 18 inches, and generate a force of 2,000 pounds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety consider 10 inches to be a safe distance from the steering wheel.

Consider the following statistics from NHTSA on the combination of lap/shoulder safety belts and airbags:

  • Combination lap/shoulder safety belts and airbags is the most effective safety system available for occupants of passenger vehicles.
  • It’s 75 percent effective in preventing serious head injuries.
  • It’s 66 percent effective in preventing serious chest injuries.
  • Driver airbags also reduce deaths by about 14 percent in all kinds of crashes.

There are various safety tips that drivers can follow — safety tips you can follow without deactivating your airbag and increasing your risk of a far more serious injury or wrongful death.

Minor seating adjustments for shorter drivers

There are several changes you can make to your seat to provide more space between your chest and the steering wheel to minimize injury. These include:

  • Pushing the seat back, if possible.
  • Tilting the steering wheel down.
  • Raising the seat up to achieve 10 inches and still drive comfortably.
  • If available, use a telescoping steering wheel to move it further away from your chest.
  • Pedal adjuster for short drivers

If after trying the adjustments listed above for your seat, you find that you are still not at least 10 inches from your steering wheel, you may want to consider having a pedal adjuster installed on your vehicle.

You can visit an adaptive equipment dealer who could measure you and provide guidance. The mobility center’s list of dealers can be found here.

Or you can visit a local dealer that services your type of vehicle. A local dealer can help evaluate whether you need help reaching the pedals and possibly supply pedal extenders that are designed and built to provide safe access to brake and accelerator pedals.

If you’re a shorter driver and in the market for a new car

If you are in the market for a new or used car, Ford has begun offering power adjustable pedals on certain models. With a touch of a button on the dashboard or on the driver seat, a driver can move the pedals forward by up to 3 inches from the regular position and back again.

What to do if you’re injured by an airbag

If you or a loved one are seriously injured by an airbag, there are a number of steps to take:

  • Preserve the vehicle; do not have it repaired or let it be sold until it is inspected by experts.
  • Take photographs, not only of the vehicle, but also of your personal injuries.
  • Consult with a a personal injury lawyer. A competent attorney is more than capable of representing your interests and defeating false claims often used by auto manufacturers.

On a final note, please DO NOT deactivate your airbag for any reason! Not only is it illegal, but airbags are proven to prevent far more fatalities and personal injuries than they cause.

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One Reply to “Airbag safety tips for shorter drivers”

  1. Dear Mr. Gursten:
    There is a solution to the air bag injury problem, but the NHTSA use of auto industry “consultants”, has to date avoided any implementation of it, simply due to cost.

    Since 1998, or now about 12 years, our company, Vehicle Safety Systems (VSS) has offered a solution to air bag injury for all size drivers, to the NHTSA, who then referred it to their many automotive industry “consultants”.

    As there is a common 6 inch differential in adult human leg length, the only method of insuring the ability of maintaining a 10 inch distance from the air bag, is to provide this 6 inch adjustable pedal length, which requires a redesign of the foot pedals.

    Our system further automates this safety, by automatically stopping all forward motion of the seat when a 10-inch distance is reached, and transferring all further action to a forward movement of seat pedals. This allows all sizes of drivers the equal risk free benefit of full air bag protection without risk of injury.

    As it involves a few hundred dollars of pedal design, it has been ignored to date by the NHTSA’s automotive consultants, who admit it offers a solution, but continue to avoid it as a “costly” pedal redesign and placate the NHTSA by providing some “smart” air bag adjustment technology, which has consistently failed to solve the problem.

    The adjustable pedal design also allows automatic driver positioning in both a safe air bag distance, and automatically elevating the seat to place the drivers eye level center of the windshield, using inexpensive distance sensors.

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