We include this video not because we enjoy videos of people messing around in junkyards (although we do, very much), but to illustrate a point: airbags are not the way people see them. Most people think of them, thanks to careful marketing, as soft, comfy pillows that will catch you in an accident and snuggle you to a safe landing. They’re not, and they never were.
How Airbags Should Work
Car safety is actually a tricky thing. At root, a car crash is a problem of physics versus biology. You’ve got two objects, at least one of which is going pretty fast, relatively speaking, both of which are heavy. As a rule, this doesn’t end well for anything not made out of steel, and even that is not exactly going to be rolling away unscathed.
The idea behind all car safety features is not so much to reduce injury: ask anybody who’s been rear-ended, nobody walks away from even a minor crash without a few bumps and bruises. The idea is to reduce fatality and major injury as much as possible. The result? Well, there are a few…trade-offs that engineers are willing to make. Like, say, popping you one in the nose to save your life.
Airbags are actually designed to hold you in place and prevent your head slamming into the steering wheel or dashboard, or worse, driving your torso into the steering column, thus causing substantially nasty head or torso injuries. The problem is that an airbag has an extremely short amount of time in which to do this; so instead of filling slowly, an airbag slams a lot of air, really quickly, into the bag, making it less of a pillow and more of a brick wall slamming into your face. An airbag actually has a decent chance of breaking your nose, although doctors agree that’s a lot better than any of the alternatives, and that’s a thumbs-up to safety engineers.
That may sound a bit, well, mean, but the results speak for themselves: airbags caused a 29% drop in crash fatalities for drivers when they became mandatory, and put passenger side fatalities on a 32% slide. In fact, wearing your seatbelt and having an airbag lowers your risk of death by 61%, compared to the 50% wearing a seatbelt alone does.
When Airbags Attack
So, airbags are safe, but they’re not “keep you totally uninjured” safe, just “better than the alternative” safe. But if they deploy when there’s not an accident, well, statistically speaking, it gets ugly pretty fast. Basically, if you’re just driving along and suddenly a brick wall slams into your face — and also makes it impossible for you to see out the windshield — you’re probably going to get in an accident.
Hence, as funny as an airbag killing a driver sounds, there’s a reason Honda and now Acura are pulling more than 850,000 cars off the road. The problem is that the airbag inflates with too much pressure, thus rupturing the bag. You know that brick wall that’s supposed to appear in front of your face? Well, imagine it appearing — and then firing into your face — from just a few inches away.
It’s not that there are that many cars with faulty airbags, it’s that Honda and Acura just don’t have accurate enough records to see which cars have the faulty parts. So they’re hauling them all in for a check-up. If you’ve got a 2001 and 2002 Accord, 2001 to 2003 Civic, 2001 to 2003 Odyssey, 2002 and 2003 CR-V, 2003 Pilot, 2002 and 2003 Acura 3.2 TL and 2003 Acura 3.2 CL vehicles, call (800) 999-1009 or visit www.recalls.honda.com for Honda vehicles, and call (800) 382-2238 or visit http://owners.acura.com/Maintenance/Recalls
And if you think it’s too much trouble: Brick wall. Fired at your face. From a few inches away. Get your airbag fixed: you’ll be happy you did!