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ASK A TROOPER: Seat belts and air bags


Minnesota State Patrol

Question: I have heard many stories from friends, family and co-workers about seat belts and air bags. I am sure that some things I hear are false. How do we know what the facts really are concerning seat belts and air bags? What is the truth?

Answer: We know the facts, because police officers report crashes with a lot of required and detailed information. The information includes seat belt use and air bag deployment. These facts are gathered and tallied, then printed annually in a crash facts booklet. This booklet has all the facts on both seat belts and air bags. We know that improperly worn seat belts can and have killed people. Air bags have too, because someone is not seat belted or are sitting too close to the air bag. One clear fact is that year after year, seat belts and air bags save lives!

One myth I was told about is people driving off the road and into the lake. People think they will be trapped in the vehicle and drown. Tests have been conducted showing that most vehicles take at least one minute to sink. That is more than enough time to unbuckle. If you hit the water without your seat belt on, you could be knocked out because it can be a violent collision, then you will drown for sure. You have to survive a crash in order to get out of the vehicle. Another common myth is that people say they want to “be thrown clear” (ejected) if their vehicle rolls. The facts show that if you are ejected from a vehicle, your chances of getting seriously injured or killed are four times greater! Ejected persons are thrown into the path of the vehicle and are usually crushed (not thrown clear).

Another big myth I have heard is that it is no one else’s business if a person chooses not to buckle up. That is just not true. In Minnesota, crash costs are millions of dollars a day! The cost of injuries and death from crashes raises everyone’s insurance premiums. Think about the families that are now missing a son, daughter, parent or spouse. Also, one unbuckled person in a vehicle can fly around and kill or injure the other occupants. All persons in a vehicle have to buckle up to be safe. The facts show that short trips in low speed zones are just as dangerous as long trips if you are unbuckled.

Air bags are getting a bad “rap.” The number of persons injured or killed by air bags is very low. People do not understand that air bags deploy at around 200 mph. People sit too close to the steering wheel or dash. Kids under 13-years of age should never sit in the front seat of any vehicle. Another reason for injuries or death from air bags is that people are not buckled properly or at all. Tucking the shoulder harness under your arm can injure or kill you. It would also let you go much farther ahead and into the deploying air bag in a dangerous manner. If used correctly, both work great. “Freak” type crashes do occur, but they’re rare. To be safe, we need to buckle up (correctly), all the time!