Seat Belts and Airbags Work Together
Seat belts and airbags should be considered as one interlocking safety unit. They are not designed to function independently. Without a seat belt harness in place, an airbag is even more dangerous, because of the force it carries.
In the past 15 years, seatbelt technology has remained essentially the same. However the mechanics of frontal and side airbag detonation have greatly improved. Although some individuals are seriously injured or killed by airbags, these situations have become rare.
Airbag modules can be expected to explode when a car or truck crashes, against a solid barrier, at the mandated speed of 14 miles per hour. However it can depend on the angle of the collision. Sensors are calibrated to force the airbag to inflate at a speed between 150-200 miles per hour. That’s one-twentieth of a second.
The Trauma of Being Injured by a Seat Belt or Airbag
Getting involved in a vehicle collision is a shocking experience. For many people, the stunning upset is compounded by being injured because of the airbag exploding or from the seat harness system. Many clients later say they never expected to be severely injured by the very instrumentalities that were placed to insulate them from injury.
The fact is that seat harnesses and airbags sometimes do cause substantial injuries. Their purpose is to prevent catastrophic injury and death. That there inevitably will be injuries, caused by them, is the price paid for the larger objective.
Those who sit very close to the steering wheel, or who are shorter than 5 feet, will generally be most affected by the airbag’s force. This can better be minimized by sitting 10 to 12 inches from the steering wheel. This is the distance recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Associated with airbag explosion is the breathing in of nitrogen or argon. These released gases are not harmful and they dissipate rapidly. What most surprises accident victims is the presence of talc or cornstarch powder, which creates a cloud in the vehicle. Powders are placed by the manufacturer, in the airbag housing unit, to allow for instantaneous release. A number of people panic, believing the cloud is smoke and their vehicle is on fire. This is exceedingly frightening.
The powders and gas irritants can cause eye discomfort and, for some, bronchial spasms. These problems don’t last long but do contribute to the confusion and misery of the collision scene.
Going to the ER
When paramedics arrive, if the victim is conscious, there is disorientation. Suddenly they are constrained to the stretcher, and neck collar, while vitals are checked, such as blood pressure. This monitoring process is continued during the entire ambulance ride to emergency room presentment.
The ER x-rays series cause substantially greater pain. The patient will often be required to assume positions on the radiologic table which are excruciating.
After being admitted inpatient, there will be no such thing as finding a comfortable bed position. Pain at the chest and ribs means that shifting from side to side hurts. There may be a physician’s requirement to lie on the back, which for some is an abnormal posture.
Since breathing is not optional, using the chest muscles is mandatory. Movement in bed or toilet transfers, over days or weeks, cause tremendous discomfort.
Most typically, seat harness and airbags cause little more than minor abrasions or first degree abrasion burns.
The chest is the most common area of injury from these vehicle impacts. Located in such a vulnerable position to the airbag and seat restraints, it is not surprising the sternum is damaged by the extreme forces impacted against it. For many struck motorists, the pain often concentrates in the area above the sternum, at the top of the chest, as well as to the sides of the sternum.
If there are bone fractures then the pain will be that much greater. Sternum or rib cage fractures exacerbate the medical problems which need to be addressed. A fractured neck is an obviously serious situation, although rare as the result of seat belt usage or airbag detonation.
The face is often impacted by the airbag. Troublesome injuries include fractured jaws and noses, and broken eyewear causing puncture injuries. Arms and shoulders get fractured as well, or at least sustain abrasion burns.