Air bags - friend or foe?

Hazel McCallion Senior Public School
Mississauga, Ontario

By Jessica W. (Grade 7)

Some people believe it's the greatest safety feature in today's state-of-the-art automobiles. Drivers and passengers are lulled into a false sense of security, and then driving with caution becomes a thing of the past. However, to be injured or killed in less than two seconds does not require a major crash or fire. It can come from something that would not even cross one's mind. It's a thought that floats on a so-called pillow. A pillow with power. An air bag. It springs out from its hiding place inside the car and makes its way towards you. Going 300 km/h only 50 cm away, it hits you. And that last thought finally crosses your mind, are air bags a friend or a foe?

A study done by Virginia Commonwealth University economists George Hoffer, Edward Millner, and Steven Peterson (1993), shows that drivers with air bag equipped automobiles take risks, simply because they stop driving with caution. George Hoffer concluded that "what it suggests is that air bag drivers are driving in such a manner to offset the effectiveness of the air bag. They think technology will bail them out."

The study of 206 fatal crashes in Virginia concluded that drivers with air bag equipped cars were responsible for all of the 206 multi-car accidents, and put the passengers in the car in even greater danger than the other drivers. The study analyzed accidents involving 1990-1993 model cars, of which 43 percent of them contained air bags. This was based on data from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In fatal crashes involving one car with air bags and one without, the driver of the vehicle containing air bags was responsible 73% of the time. Also in the study were 13 single accidents in which only passengers died; nine of these drivers had air bags.

Not only are air bags dangerous for adults, but they are even more dangerous for children. Usually around the age of three, children get to move out of their baby seats and get to sit in a normal chair like everyone else. The joyful car rides they experience become much more exciting. Then, in another year or so, they want to sit up front where the bigger people sit.

But before all of this information and news flashes about 'the back seat is best', the joyful car rides in the front seat turned into something painful and frightening for a four year-old girl who instantly suffered a broken neck and a severed spinal cord after the air bag on the passenger side inflated. In 1993-94, 19 children were killed by air bags over a period of 18 months, in Washington D.C. This included the case of a seven year-old boy whose throat was slashed by the powerful force the air bags have while they are deploying in less than a 20th of a second.

With this so-called "safety" feature, drivers are no longer worrying about the possibility of injuries that could be caused by the crash. Instead, they are worried about the tremendous force the air bag has when it inflates so quickly. They are worried about the extra security injuring them. Seat belts serve the same purpose as the air bags. The possibility of being injured or killed is slim to none if the seat belt is worn properly. What's the point in having the extra security in the car if it can do more damage than the crash itself?

Front Page Soap Box