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Do Airbags Help Reduce Whiplash?

Do Airbags Help Reduce Whiplash?

Have you ever wondered how effective your car airbags are at preventing you from getting whiplash? I have. Back in 1999 I was involved in a severe car accident. I was in the front passenger seat. The ten year old vehicle my friend was driving was not equipped with head-protecting side airbags, or for that matter any passenger airbags. As a result of no airbags, I ended up with seven staples in my head, glass in my face, and a case of such severe whiplash that I could not even turn my own head without assistance.

I was extremely lucky to be alive, but I often wondered whether I would have faired better if there were airbags in the car to protect me. In 2006, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety conducted a study of head-protecting side airbags. The study showed that side airbags with head protection greatly reduced deaths. The Institute vice president who conducted the study, Anne McCartt, persuasively stated, “Once every passenger vehicle on the road has side airbags that include head protection for front-seat occupants, we can save as many as 2,000 lives per year”.

It is wonderful to hear that airbags are saving lives, but what about reducing injuries, specifically whiplash injury? How effective are today’s airbags at reducing whiplash? The answer is pretty good. I discovered that several automobile manufacturers are coming out with great airbag technology.

Ford released this year its new air bag technology in their 2012 Ford Focus. The airbags are designed specifically to reduce whiplash injuries. The airbag is designed to sense the height and weight of the driver and front seat passenger. It will then inflate at the correct pressure based on the body type. In the past, airbags were designed with one size fits all mentality. Unfortunately, this design was not very effective and caused many car occupants to have to seek physical therapy from whiplash related injuries. Think about it. If you have an airbag that inflates at a pressure speed to stop a 300 lbs linebacker from hitting the dashboard, imagine what that same pressure impact will do to a 120 lbs woman? The petite woman’s neck and head will be slammed backward at the same speed as the airbag inflated, causing severe whiplash.

Ford recognized this drawback of the original airbag design and decided they could improve it to better protect their customers. Their new airbag design adjusts the airbag inflation pressure to each front seat occupant. Having the correct amount of pressure for the correct body type has greatly cut down on the backward force experienced by front seat occupants. The less force backward reduces the whiplash effect.

Ford is not the only one to improve airbag technology. General Motors introduced its dual-depth passenger-side airbag. These airbags inflate to different sizes. The variables that determine the amount of inflation are seat position, the force of the crash and whether a car occupant is wearing a seat belt or not. Volvo also has dual-stage airbags present in their car models but they work slightly different than General Motors. Instead of measuring the amount of inflation, Volvo’s design measures the speed of inflation. This is calculated by severity of crash and whether or not seat belt is used. Another noteworthy player in airbag technology is BMW. BMW now offers their customers not only front and side airbags, but as airbags for your legs and knees. Having experienced whiplash first hand from a car crash, I can tell you it is extremely painful. I would not wish anyone to have to suffer from whiplash. It is great to learn airbag technology is now not only saving lives, but also reducing whiplash injuries.