Saturday, July 20, 2024


We have done several stories of this in the past. Now Kelly Taylor with the Chronicle Herald  has gone into more detail on the subject. Daily driving in Montgomery County I continue to see this.






In the movie Neighbors, Zac Efron’s character exacts revenge on his neighbor, played by Seth Rogen, by stealing the airbags out of Rogen’s Subaru and booby trapping Rogen’s couch, office chair and the chair of his colleague.

Hilarity ensues when Rogen goes flying into the air as he sits down, and as the movie goes on, he rarely sits anywhere without testing it with a pole first.

Whether the physics of airbags would allow that to actually happen is debatable. Many YouTube videos seem to support the prank; in others the bags don’t quite as successfully launch their victims.

Most such pranks end with the Darwin Award nominee writhing in pain clutching his nether regions.

What’s not debatable is this: airbags don’t gently puff out into pillowy softness like you see in slow-motion crash-testing videos. They explode at about twice the speed of a car on the highway and become rock-hard for a very brief period of time before beginning to deflate and get out of the way.

And it’s that knowledge that made me cringe several times this summer.

Many trips to the cottage, we’d pass by a car whose passenger was chillin’ out, with their feet up, resting on the airbag panel.

Those of us who understand physics can see the danger of resting your feet on a device that expands at 200 km/h while your knees are inches from your face, but how bad can it really be?


In California, a man named Kevin Harrison was riding home from Las Vegas with his feet up.

He had his foot severed when the airbag deployed in the rented Suzuki during a very minor crash. His foot was reattached, but he still has struggles with walking 16 years later.

“Yes it is true. Mr. Harrison’s foot was severed save for a lone tendon and was successfully reconstructed,” his lawyer, Paul Konapelsky, related in an email last week. “To this day, if I see someone with their foot on a dash I try to get their attention to remove it from the dash.

“Most people just blow me off.”

Harrison sued Suzuki, claiming airbag warnings were insufficient, and while the case was rejected in the lower court, it was allowed to stand on appeal. Konapelsky said the case was settled before going to trial.

According to the Montgomery County Police Reporter, a Houston, Tex. woman ended up looking like a trussed-up Christmas turkey when the airbag blew, dislocated her hips and shattered her tibias. She survived and is walking today.

Many of these life-altering events happen in crashes where it’s hard to tell there was damage to the outside of the car. There’s also no iron-clad guarantee the airbag won’t malfunction and go off for no reason.

A YouTube video has an excellent demonstration when a 20-kilogram steel bar, resting on top of the passenger airbag of a derelict minivan, is blown through the windshield by the force of the airbag.

In the same video, the same steel bar is driven up — deforming the van’s roof — and into the rear seat by the driver’s side airbags.

In concert with chassis improvements such as crush zones and structural members that direct crash energy around a passenger compartment, airbags are helping more and more cars achieve some astounding safety ratings.

The entire point of crash mitigation engineering is to manage the deceleration of a vehicle’s occupants in a collision. The first point of attack is in allowing the car to absorb as much impact as possible. This reduces the forces transmitted to the interior and to the occupants. The seat belts are also designed to give a little bit, to absorb more inertia. Finally, the airbag should be the last point of contact.

But to do this, the car’s engineer starts with a simple assumption: that you are located where he expects you to be. And that is sitting, upright, belted-in, feet on the floor and with the seats adjusted properly, which should leave you about 10-12 inches away from the nearest airbag.

Timing is critical: if your contact with the airbag isn’t delayed by the forces absorbed by the seat belt, you are likely hitting the airbag too early, while it’s still coming at you like a freight train.

To keep you and your passengers safe, it’s incumbent upon you to know the locations of your car’s airbags. If you have a newer car, there may well be more airbags there than you think.

Side-curtain airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, knee airbags and even — on General Motors products — centre airbags designed to keep front-seat occupants from crashing into each other, are becoming more and more common. Check your owners’ manual.

You wouldn’t let your family ride with their feet on a bomb, so don’t let them ride with their feet on an airbag.

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