Seatbelts Essay, Research Paper
Airbags, the Innovation of Automobile Safety: Lifesavers and Killers Driver and occupant safety has been a major concern since the invention of automobiles. The very first safety feature on the automobile was the horn. They were easy to use and also provided an audio alert to inform people that there was a car present. As time gradually past on, the number of drivers and cars increased. The engineers noticed that an audio alert was not enough to protect the passengers of the car. This brought about the invention of seatbelts, padded steering wheels, and many other safety features. As time and technology progressed, the invention of driver s side airbags came about. The idea of airbags were formulated as early as the late 1950 s; however, the thought of making a bag of air, exploding out at phenomenal speeds, hindered their process because of the lack of technology, knowledge, and testing. In the late 70 s and the early 80 s, airbags were put into the production of a limited number of cars for testing. The results showed that drivers, ! in an accident, would benefit from a car equipped with an airbag rather than a car not equipped (Marcus 14). America s obsession with car safety lead to the hasty production of airbags. The dangers proposed by airbags were overlooked (Orme 28). The hasty production of airbags raises a question of total occupant safety. Are airbags safe for everyone and everything? In the American society, safety features in an automobile are the priority of buying cars. Many car buyers look for the feature of airbags when shopping. Today, very few cars leave the factory without at least one airbag at the driver s side. More and more automakers include the passenger airbag in their standard equipment. In 1989, only 7 percent of all cars built in the United States were equipped with an airbag; the number for 1996 is at more than 80 percent (Juran 134). In 1992, under chapter 301 of title 49, labeled S208 or standard number 208, U.S. congress ordained that all passenger cars must have dual airbags by 1998 and light weight trucks the following year (Leib G1,G2). Airbags play a very important role in the world of cars and drivers. Airbags are designed to absorb the shock of a collision in an accident when the impact of a sudden stop causes the driver s head to move forward rapidly, a movement which can cause spinal damage or lead to head and torso inj! uries. “The bags have saved at least 1500 lives since 1989 while reducing serious head injuries by tens of thousands” (Maynard A14). Statistics provide evidence that 92 percent of the cars equipped with airbags have better occupant injury outcomes than automobiles without airbags (Henry 124). In a given instance, a driver named Lawrence Resch, who lived in Houston, was in his Saturn driving home from work. It was a Friday night around 8:00 p.m. As he was driving along I-45, a truck hit him head on. Apparently, the driver of the truck had fallen asleep at the wheel. The driver of the truck was killed instantly; however, Resch survived. His Saturn was totally destroyed, but Resch suffered only minor injuries to his legs and ankles (Kimble A4). Because of stories like Resch s, many car companies invested in the development of side impact airbags to further help prevent major injuries in accidents. The side impact airbags serve to protect the head, neck, and torso in sid! e collisions. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and Lexus have released cars with side airbags. GMC, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi are currently in the process of releasing cars with the side airbags later on in the decade. People may wonder why airbags were developed so late. Airbags look safe and comfortable; however, when the bag inflates, it produces forces in excess of 160 G s, or 160 times the force of gravity (Swoboda A15). Airbags are not the gentle-looking pillows that billow in slow motion on television commercials. They explode at speeds of 130 mph to nearly 200 mph less than a blink of an eye. They can exert 1,100 to 2,600 pounds of pressure. (Clements B2) The pressure that the airbag exerts on the driver is analogous to that of an elephant stepping on you for a split second. This information brings about the question of how safe airbags really are. Airbags, which have been viewed as lifesavers, have been responsible for the deaths of at least 24 infants and children and many freak accidents. The airbags are designed to fill a predetermined space that is presumed to be occupied. When the driver or passenger deviates from this area, airbags can serve to do exactly the opposite of its purpose. Engineers have warned people for the past two decades that the force from an ignited airbag can be fatal for infants, children, and small adults. Most of the injuries inflicted from airbags are minor. Bruises, cuts, and eye irritations are some of the common injuries. However, the deadly accidents involve broken necks, fractured skulls, and/or other head injuries from the force of the airbag being deployed. The fatal accidents usually involve infants or children in safety seats. For example, Lauren Kramer was driving her 5 year old son, Stephen, to his grandmothers house in Renton, which is near Seattle. The child was in the! front seat playing with his toys. It was December around 7:30 a.m. and the roads had frozen over during the night. They were traveling on I-5 at approximately 50 mph. As they were nearing the exit, the car hit a patch of ice, which caused the car to ram into the wall of the exit. The airbags both deployed. The mother suffered injuries to her ribs and a couple of bruises to her face; the child, on the other hand, died. The force from the airbag broke his neck (Ramirez G21). Many parents put their infant or child in the front seat for convenience, such as feeding them or looking over them. This action can prove to be lethal for the infant/child. An extensive test was conducted at Olympia Fields, Illinois, in September 1995 by the NHTSA, or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The test involved crash test dummies with special sensors. These sensors were built into the critical points of the dummies to simulate the effects that would be felt by humans. The dummies were placed in the front seat of a car equipped with a driver and passenger side airbag. The size of the dummies were in proportion to little infants/children. A dummy was placed in a rear facing safety seat in order to simulate the typical placement of the safety seat in the automobile. The car was driven into a wall at 30 mph. The airbags deployed and the result showed that the infant/child in the safety seat would have been killed or seriously injured (Clem! ents B2). Investigators say the injuries were caused by the airbag cover flying open and slamming into the safety seat near the child s head, transferring the force through the hard plastic safety seat. (Clements B2) When the child safety seat is placed in the front, there is insufficient amount of room for the airbag to inflate, therefore, this results in the seat being slammed by the bag. This force can result in severe brain damage or death. Statistics show that 1 infant/child dies every week because of the force exerted by the airbags (Maynard A14). From the results of many different tests, the NHTSA concluded and announced that the infants and children should never be placed in the front of the car if it is equipped with a passenger side airbag (Clements B2). “Accident reports indicate that children are generally safer if they are restrained in the rear seat of a car rather than the front seat” (Henry 124). Automakers, such as GMC, Chrysler, and Ford, are starting to offer integrated rear child safety seats in order to help alleviate the accidents involving safety seats in the front. Many new ideas have been proposed to prevent infant and child accidents from airbags. The most practical option is to add a switch to deactivate the passenger side airbag. The estimated cost of the switch is from 5 to 10 dollars. The only “problem with an on/off switch is that adults could forget to turn the bag back on once the infant is out of the seat” (Gates 46). Ford currently has two vehicles which are fitted with this device, the F line pickups and the Ranger. Another sensible option is to fit a sensor which regulates the rate at which the airbag deploys. This sensor would be in conjunction with a sensor in the seatbelt. If the seatbelt is worn, then the airbag would deploy at a lesser speed. Engineers are working to come up with a solution; however, until that time, the only option is to leave the infant/child in the rear seat. Coalitions and educational programs have been formed in order to help inform parents on the risks of airbags and safety seats. An ex! ample of a group is the Coalition for Airbag Safety: “we will educate parents about the best way to install a child safety seat in a car that has a passenger side airbag” (Pena 1). Education of the dangers of airbags can serve to be very beneficial. In an example; an educational program was provided to the parents in Durham, North Carolina during the spring of 1995. The program informed the parents on the dangers of airbags and the ways to avoid accidents of airbags by correctly restraining the child in the rear seat. As next spring came around, the use of correct restraint went from 36 percent to 64 percent (Maynard A14). Through these efforts, infant/child accidents have decreased dramatically. Many accidents involving airbags are the outcomes of car wrecks; however, not all accidents are from the results of collisions. In a few instances, the airbag may deploy from an electrical malfunction when doing electrical work under the dash. An electrical short out to one of the wires in the airbag circuit can cause the airbag to deploy. In another example, the airbag may be set off if the vehicle is exposed to severe jolts or bumps such as when plowing snow with a fitted snow blade or when off-roading in a four wheel drive vehicle (Carley 1). These strange mishaps can serve to be very dangerous, even deadly. Most of these accidents can be prevented by simply deactivating the airbag by removing the system fuse. Automakers advise drivers to consult expert mechanics if questions arise on the safety of the activity performed by the car. In the past two decades, airbags have long been heralded as being the next step toward total occupant safety in automobiles. One may believe that the lives saved by airbags can over look the deaths caused by the bags. Of course, airbags have prevented more than 1500 deaths and many serious injuries over the years. Unfortunately, the explosive force of airbags has also killed a total of more than 24 infants and children. Is it really worth the death of more than 24 infants and children? One death is more than enough. In my personal opinion, I feel that airbags are one of the greatest safety inventions; however, I feel that we, the society, have not come far enough in technology and knowledge. The proof is given by the death of more than 24 infants and children by a device which is supposed to save lives. Automakers are working on solving the problems associated with airbags. Until there is a solution that is 100 percent fool proof, we are forced to sacrifice lives to sa! ve lives. This is not an attractive thought, but there are over 50 million cars on the road which are already equipped with dual airbags. Like everything else, we must learn to follow the rules: 1. Wear your seatbelt. 2. Don t hunch over the steering wheel. 3. Set the seat at a comfortable distance from the airbag so that neither your chest or face is up against it. 4. Wear plastic lenses if you wear glasses. 5. Most importantly, restrain infants and children in the back seat.