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Thursday, Dec 27, 2001

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Seat belts and air bags

BETTER LATE than never. Finally, the directive to wear a seat belt has been announced! One used to wonder wearing a seat-belt in an automobile was considered so important by all. It was something unheard of in India. Somehow, although we were good at aping all the bad qualities of the Western world, we refused to take some good tips from them, especially on the driver and passenger safety. Until now.

The endeavour of any driver is to avoid collisions, however, crashes do happen. Seat belts and airbags make it possible to survive collisions that could have otherwise resulted in serious, if not fatal, injuries.

Some facts

Every hour someone dies simply because they did not wear a seat belt. Failure to buckle up contributes to more fatalities than any other reason. The tragic death of Princess Diana put a spotlight on the importance of seat belt use. The only person surviving that high-speed crash was properly restrained in the front seat and had an airbag; the driver and back seat passengers who were not wearing seat belts were killed. The majority of all injuries and deaths from traffic crashes are preventable.

Why should you wear a seat belt

They are estimated to save over 9,500 lives each year worldwide and the next one could be you. When lap and shoulder belts are used correctly, they reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45 per cent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 per cent. Only you can use your seat belt to ensure your safety. If you are not concerned about your personal safety, then think about how your accident could affect your family and friends. God forbid but if one goes into an accident the driver should in a state to rescue the other passengers or be in a condition to take the rest to hospital. Seat belts provide the greatest protection against ejection. Three-quarters of those thrown out from cars during a crash are killed. In fatal traffic crashes in 1996, only 1 per cent of people wearing seat belts were ejected, compared with 20 per cent of those not wearing seat belts. At the moment of impact, passengers are still travelling at the car's original speed. Just after the car rapidly comes to a stop, passengers not wearing seat belts forcefully come into contact with the steering wheel, windshield, the car's interior, or are pushed out of the car. While the back seat is the safest place to ride, unbuckled passengers are at serious risk of injury and can be a potentially fatal threat to others in the vehicle during a crash. In a 90 kmph crash, a back-seat passenger of average size not wearing a seat belt would fly forward with a force of 1,361 kg. Seat belt use is required by law in many countries.

Specific instructions — Seat belts

A seat belt should be worn with the lap portion placed flat across your lap, as low on the hips as possible. The reason for this placement is to spread the impact across the sturdy hipbones rather than across the soft abdomen. The shoulder part of the seat belt should come directly over the bony shoulder area and down across the torso. It should fit comfortably but snug enough to hold you in place during a collision. Nobody should think that a seat belt is not needed when driving at slow speeds or on short trips.

All driving is dangerous. Fatalities have been recorded as slow as 20 kmph and seat belts are found to be most effective at low speeds.

Seat belts are designed to allow motion around the vehicle. They provide plenty of freedom without compromising on safety. They are designed to activate immediately should a car come to a sudden halt. After regular use, seat belts are comfortable. The fear of wearing a seat belt and getting trapped in a burning car or caught under water is highly unlikely.

Even so, you are much more likely to be knocked out and rendered unconscious if a seat belt is not used. Chances of escape are better when wearing a seat belt. One may be saved if he is thrown clear of a car in a collision. There has been instances in which it has been found that its 25 times chances more likely to be killed in a crash when thrown from a vehicle. The force of an impact can throw you 150 feet (46 meters), or 15 car lengths. Seat belts also prevent your head from forcefully contacting the windshield, which could result in spinal damage. It is impossible to prepare for crashes sometimes they happen by just batting an eyelid and the forces generated are enormous. One should not get offended or take it as a matter of ego when the driver or and other passenger ask the others to buckle up. Most people willingly use seat belts if someone only reminds them.

Specific information — Airbags

Are passive restraint devices hidden in the steering wheel or dashboard. They operate automatically, in the blink of an eye and do not obstruct driver visibility or reduce driver control. Activated by sensors located in the bumper and engine compartment. Sensors automatically activate in a frontal crash. Release nitrogen gas, which fills a nylon bag when activated. The bag inflates like a balloon to provide a cushion to passengers propelled forward by the force of impact. The bag used in conjunction with seat belts offer maximum safety. Initially designed for frontal crashes, and activate by the sudden impact of 12mph (19 kmph) or more. The availability of side-impact airbags now provide additional protection in side impact crashes. Although noisy during filling, they will not damage hearing. 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 is activated, it cannot be used again and must be replaced.

Airbags can cause severe injuries when they are deployed if one is not wearing a seat belt. The following can prevent injury. Position yourself at least 18 inches (0.5 metre) away from the airbag. Always wear your seat belt. Never hold pens, cups, cellular phones or other objects in your hands while driving, as these can come in forceful contact with your face by a deploying airbag. Drivers less than 5 feet and 1 inch (1.5 m) in height should consider either utilising an extender or turning off the airbag. Children less than 12 years of age should sit in the rear seat only.

Hoping this advice will be taken up more voluntarily rather than being forced and we would like to see more people happy and safe after a crash rather than in the hospital.


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