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The UK's Channel 4 aired a Dispatches programme yesterday on airbag-related
incidents, mainly in the USA.
The programme's conclusions were:
a) Overall, airbags are a "good thing", having saved some 1600+ lives at a
cost of around 50 extra deaths.
b) Driver's side airbags are dangerous and potentially lethal to anyone less
than 5' 3" in height.
c) Passenger side airbags are very dangerous indeed to a small child strapped
in a rearwards-facing seat.
c) Passenger side airbags are dangerous to small children (less than the
size of an average 12-year-old) and adults.
The recommendations were:
a) Manufacturers should develop and install "smart" airbags.
b) Short drivers (less than 5' 4") should disable the driver's side system.
c) Babies and children under 12 should never travel in the front seat.
d) For average size adults, the airbag is a useful addition to seat belt
protection but is _not_ a replacement because of the frequent occurence
of sideways forces. Very few accident victims hit the airbag in a
straight line, and the torsional forces applied to the neck are the
It was a fairly well-balanced programme. Channel 4 financed a series of tests
on a sled using dummies - the airbag system worked well for the adults, but
decapitated the baby in the rear-facing seat and broke the neck of an "eight
year old child" in the front passenger seat. They also modelled the pressures
inside the brain.
Committee Member, UK Audi [ur-]quattro Owners Club