Help Your Air Bags Help You

It’s obvious that air bags are meant to keep you safe; however, if you don’t take the correct precautionary measures, they can do more harm than good. Some factors that affect air bag safety are the age and size of the passenger, the position of the driver’s hands on the steering wheel, and the position of seats in front of air bags.

Passenger Age & Size

To maximize safety, take into account the age and size of every passenger in your vehicle including yourself. For all children ages 12 and under, the safest place in any vehicle is the back seat. Buckling kids into the back seats can prevent serious injury in the event of air bag deployment. Infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats should not be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with air bags. Laws governing the use of car seats vary from state to state and offer further guidance for drivers. For those of you in Dallas, check out the Texas statute here.

Elderly and small-stature adults (under 5’5″) also need to make special adjustments to keep themselves as safe as possible. When driving, they should tilt the steering wheel downward, if possible, so the air bag points at the breastbone rather than at the head and neck. They should also move their seats as far back as possible whether driving or riding in the passenger seat.

Seat Position

The position of seats is important for all passengers regardless of age or size. The ideal seat position places the passenger 10–12 inches from the air bag cover. The seat back should be upright with a slight tilt backwards. Adjust head restraints, or head rests, so that the top is just above ear level and the restraint is about 3″ from the back of the head.

Holding the Steering Wheel

Remember hearing “10 and 2” while learning to drive? Now that air bags are prominent, holding your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel is no longer the safest practice. In order to keep your hands and arms out of your air bag’s way, position your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock. If that isn’t comfortable or the spokes on your steering wheel don’t allow it, go with 8 and 4.

Other Factors

Other factors affect how you should drive, ride, and sit to increase air bag safety. Pregnant women, for example, should be especially careful about the angle of the steering wheel to ensure that the air bag is pointed at the breastbone, not the abdomen or head areas. Certain medical conditions may require that air bags be turned off if the passenger can’t maintain at least 10–12″ between the breastbone and air bag cover. These medical conditions include scoliosis or achondroplasia for drivers and scoliosis or Down syndrome and atlantoaxial instability for passengers. In addition, if a child can’t be placed in a back seat because he or she requires constant monitoring due to a medical condition, the air bag for the passenger seat should be turned off.

For more information on air bag safety, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website and