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Beyond Airbag Recalls: The Danger of Sitting Too Close

We retweet as many automotive recall notices as we can for the safety of our followers. Lately the vast majority revolve around the widening recall of Takata air bags. Millions of cars and drivers are affected, and in light of this, I couldn’t ignore something that I had seen some months ago.

While driving a busy four lane highway, I was passed by a young woman in an SUV traveling at a pretty high rate of speed, clearly in a hurry to get wherever she needed to get. But what got my attention was her position behind the wheel. She was sitting bolt upright, using her arms to hold herself forward with her chin literally riding above the steering wheel.

Simply put, if this is her typical sitting posture when driving, and it likely is, in the event of the deployment of the driver’s air bag, this young woman stands no chance of survival. Not with a good air bag or one that has been recalled. She is too close to the wheel.

Air bags save lives and prevent injuries by cushioning occupants as they move forward in a front-end crash. To do this, an air bag must deploy quickly and forcefully. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the force is greatest in the first 2 to 3 inches after the air bag bursts through its cover and begins to inflate.

The NHTSA calls those 2 to 3 inches the “risk zone” where an occupant can be hit with enough force to suffer serious injury or death. Conversely, a properly restrained driver or passenger sitting 10 inches away from the air bag cover will “contact the air bag only after it has completely or almost completely inflated.”

The driver I saw was nearly leaning directly against the steering wheel.

This is a failure of us all: driving instructors, license testers, friends, family, anyone who has ever driven with someone who sits too close to the steering wheel and said nothing.

Driving is a learned behavior as is the position and posture we get comfortable with behind the wheel. Changing any of it is not an easy thing, nor will be bringing it to someone’s attention.

But if you know someone who sits too close to the steering wheel, try anyway. Show them the NHTSA website. Show them this article. The life you save might be your loved one.

And start with this: it might be a simple as changing the seat or steering wheel settings.

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