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Air bags and seat belts save lives.

But airbags can cause permanent injuries and death from spinal cord and brain injuries, especially in children and anyone of short stature who sits in the front seat close to the steering wheel or dashboard.

Massive decelerations in crashes occur in one-tenth of a second. That is faster than the blink of an eye.The larger the vehicle, the greater the mass protecting occupants, allowing more energy to be absorbed by the vehicle as it crushes. Compression of metal structures decelerates occupants to lower speeds in the passenger compartment and offers safety.

Smaller, lighter vehicles provide less passenger compartment protection.

Persons of short stature who sit close to the steering wheel and dash will impact those objects earlier in a crash sequence than a tall person. Not only do they impact sooner, but because the energy in a crash degrades exponentially they are subject to greater forces.

It is common sense that the further back you are in a car in a head-on collision the safer you are.

But what most people do not realize is that energy in a collision increases by the square of the speed.

For example, a vehicle crashing into a wall at 60 miles per hour has FOUR times the energy of the same vehicle crashing into a wall at 30 mile per hour.

Double the speed of a car from 30 to 60 and the energy produced increases in proportion to the square of those numbers [900 versus 3600].

As speeds increase, energy increases dramatically and vehicle performance is grossly altered. That is why people in high speed collisions will report that it seemed to them that it took a long time for a car travelling at 70 mph to come to rest. They are right. An increase in speed from 50 to 70 mph doubles the available energy that must be dissipated before that vehicle will stop. Comparing the squares of those speed shows the ration is 2500 to 4900 and confirms twice the available energy with an increase in speed from 50 to 70 mph.

Seatbelts and airbags are designed to work together and they perform most safely at the greatest distance from the steering wheel and dash. The further a driver or passenger is from the front of a car the more protection is available from crush, intrusion and airbags.

Children riding in the font seat can be seriously injured or killed when an air bag comes out in a crash. Airbags explode with great force and are equivalent to the power in a 12 gauge shotgun shell. It can kill those who are too close to it, even when belted and both the crash and airbag will cause death or permanent injuries to those who are unbelted.

Follow these rules to minimize injuries:

Children, 12 and under, and adults of short, light build, particularly seniors, should ride properly restrained in the rear seat.

Infants should NEVER ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger side air bag.

Small children should ride in a rear seat in child safety seats approved for their age and size.

The safest position for a child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat.

Everyone always should buckle both lap and shoulder belts.

Drivers should sit back as far as possible from the steering wheel. Never closer than 10 inches from the center of the steering wheel to the breastbone.

Increase the distance from the steering wheel to increase the margin of safety in a crash and the risk of injury from both the collision and an airbag.

Buckle up and slide the seat back as far as possible to allow safe operation.

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Richard Alexander