Seatbelts & Airbags

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Facts and Figures
Each year 15,000 lives could be saved if everyone wore seat belts. An easy way to approximate crash forces is to multiply a rider’s weight times the vehicle speed.  At 30 miles per hour, an unrestrained passenger weighing 150 pounds exerts the force of more than two tons (4500 pounds) as it crashes against another object, including other passengers. This is enough to kill!

  • Only 61 percent of Americans always use their seat belts when they're driving.
  • Another 30 percent sometimes use the belts.
  • Nine percent never use their seat belts.

Myths About Seat Belts

  • I don't need a seat belt when driving at slow speeds or on short trips.
  • All driving is dangerous. Fatal crashes have been recorded as slow as 12 miles per hour on non-belted occupants. Most crashes occur at speeds less than 40 miles per hour. Of all crashes, 75 percent occur within 25 miles from home.
  • Seat belts are uncomfortable and too confining.
  • Seat belts are designed to allow motion around the vehicle. They provide plenty of freedom without compromising safety. They are designed to activate immediately should a car come to a sudden halt. After regular use, seatbelts are very comfortable.
  • If I wear a seat belt, I might get trapped in a burning car or caught in one underwater.
  • Less than one out of 200 traffic related incidents involve fire or water submersion.  Even so, you're much more likely to be knocked out and become unconscious if you're not wearing a belt. Your chances of escape are better while wearing a seat belt.
  • I might be saved if I'm thrown clear of a car in a collision.
  • You are 25 times more likely to be killed in a crash when thrown from a vehicle.  The force of an impact can throw you 150 feet...15 car lengths! Seat belts also prevent you from smashing your head into the windshield, which could cause spinal damage.
  • When I see a collision happening, I'll brace myself.
  • Crashes happen in the blink of an eye. It is impossible to prepare for crashes, and the forces generated are enormous. (See Facts and Figures above)
  • I don't want to offend my passengers by telling them to buckle up.
  • Most people willingly put on seat belts if someone only reminds them.

Facts about Seatbelts

Each year the Phoenix Fire Department responds to thousands of incidents involving cars, trucks, motorcycles and diesel trucks. Most of these involve collisions at the intersections of large surface streets. Phoenix has one of the highest vehicle crash rates in the country.

Many children are injured or killed because they ride unrestrained in a vehicle. More than 75 percent of these incidents could have been prevented by the correct use of seat belts or approved child safety seats.

Most children killed in crashes die because they do not use any kind of car seat or seat belt.  But not using car seats and seat belts correctly kills almost as many children.

Children must understand the importance of seat belt use. In fact, it's the law! Putting on a seat belt should become a routine habit. While there are a variety of reasons why people don't use seat belts, most are based on misconceptions and fallacies.

The forces involved are too strong for most of us to imagine. A 150 pound person exerts a force of more than two tons in a 30 mile per hour collision. Yet, seat belts can reduce injuries and medical costs by 50 percent. (please see Facts and Figures link on left).

Proper use of the seat belt and shoulder strap is important. When using a seat belt, make sure to hear the "click" when you buckle-up. The seat belt and shoulder strap should be positioned snugly across the hips and shoulders. A seat belt incorrectly positioned above the hips may result in serious injury to abdominal organs in a crash. Likewise, the shoulder strap should be placed directly over the shoulder. Otherwise, a neck injury may result during a collision. Finally, avoid extra slack in the belt.

Children should never share the use of a seat belt and they should not take their seat belts off until the vehicle has come to a complete stop. They should never sit in anyone's lap in a moving vehicle. A child sitting in someone's lap is the single, most dangerous place to be in a crash. It is impossible to hold them in a collision.

Child safety seats should be used from the first time the child rides in a car until they are big enough to use an adult seat belt properly. Age appropriate car seats and travel vests are available. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for correct use. Infant safety seats are designed to face the rear of the vehicle.

Always check the car seat to ensure that the harness and belt are snug and secure. If a vehicle is equipped with a passenger side air bag, place the infant safety seat rear-facing in the back seat of the car. NEVER place an infant seat in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with passenger side airbags. Some models of infant car seats can be used as infant carriers as well. Check the manufacturer's instructions to make sure that the seat can be used as a carrier AND a car seat. Some car seats are called convertibles. This means that they can be used as rear-facing infant seats, but then convert to forward facing toddler seats. Check the manufacturer's instructions for weight limits for each application of the car seat. Also check the instructions to see how and when a tether strap can be used.

Children should ride rear-facing for as long as possible if they do not exceed the weight limit of the seat.   The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children ride rear-facing until 18 months of age AND 25 pounds.  Both benchmarks must be met before turning a child facing front.  Your car seat instructions will state if you can use the same seat forward facing.  Some of these seats come equipped with a tether strap which further secures the car seat. Read your vehicle owners manual to see if your vehicle has tether anchor locations. If so, contact your auto dealer to purchase a tether anchor kit.

As a child gets older, they should ride in approved booster seats which help fill the gap between a child seat and regular use of a seat belt. Make sure to use booster seats with upper body support, either by using a lap and shoulder belt or by using the harness supplied by the manufacturer. Again, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when installing child safety seats. Arizona law requires the use of an approved child restraint seat for children up to age five, no matter how much they weigh.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that a child weighs around 80 pounds and is between four and five feet tall before they can use a regular vehicle seat belt. Their backs should rest comfortably against the back of the vehicle seat and their legs should bend at the edge of the seat.

Questions about car seat use, seatbelt use or car seat inspections can be referred to 602-495-5437 (KIDS).

Airbags are passive restraint devices hidden in the steering wheel or dashboard of many cars manufactured today. A passive restraint device is one that operates automatically. In contrast, a seat belt is an active restraint device and must be connected to operate. Active restraints require “human action” in order to work properly.

Airbags operate in the blink of an eye and do not obstruct driver visibility or reduce driver control. Sensors are located in the front bumper and engine compartment of a vehicle. You cannot activate an airbag by beating the bumper with a sledge hammer. However, in a frontal crash, these sensors activate all at once. When activated, they expel a non-toxic nitrogen gas which fills a nylon bag. The nylon bag inflates like a balloon to provide a cushion for passengers thrown forward by the force of a crash.

A common misconception is that a passenger doesn't need to wear seat belts if they have an airbag. This is not true. They should be used with lap and shoulder belts for maximum safety. Airbags are designed for frontal crashes, and activate by the sudden impact of 12 miles per hour or more. They do not provide optimum safety in side impact, rear impact, multiple impact or rollover crashes.

Although noisy during filling, they will not damage hearing. The nitrogen gas expelled is non-toxic and cannot cause harm. When the bag inflates, it can push a cigarette aside, but will not usually affect someone wearing eyeglasses. When deflated, a white powder will be seen. This is talc powder and non-toxic. Once an airbag has been activated, it cannot be used again and must be replaced. This will cost about $350. Check with your insurance company to see if this expense is covered with your policy.

Flammable Materials and Auto Safety
Gasoline should be stored in tightly-capped and labeled safety cans that have flame arresters and pressure-relief valves.  It should never be stored in glass or plastic jugs.

If you must siphon gasoline, use a hand-operated pump - not your mouth.

Never store gasoline in the trunk of your car. The vapors can ignite and cause an explosion. Or, a rear end collision that could otherwise be minor could result in a tragedy.

If your car has a catalytic converter, don't drive through or park in areas of dry grass. The intense heat from catalytic converters can ignite these grasses.

Unless you are tuning your car, never run your car with the carburetor air-cleaner removed. The air-cleaner device functions as a flame arrestor in the event the engine backfires. If it is not in place, a backfire can easily ignite spilled gasoline or oil on the engine surfaces.

Never throw smoking materials out the window. Use your ashtray. Carry and maintain an approved fire extinguisher in your car. Know how to use it.