Do Airbags Save Lives? (All You Need To Know)

All modern cars come fitted with airbags, and while they’re promoted under the vise of saving lives, it can seem a bit counterintuitive to inflate a pillow in someone’s face at 300 mph.

Therefore, you may wonder- how safe are airbags, and do they save lives? If you’d like to find out, keep reading!

Do Airbags Save Lives?

According to the NHTSA, about 50,000 lives are saved each year by airbags. Often, the airbags are most important during front and side collisions, when the driver and front-seat passenger end up with the most frontal force. In total, airbags reduce the chance of death in these accidents by between 29% and 32%.

For information on how to drive with an airbag safely, how airbags work and more, take a look at the information below for more useful facts!

How Effective Are Airbags in Saving Lives?

While airbags can sometimes cause injuries, they’re very effective at saving lives. In many cases, airbags can mean the difference between life and death for some passengers in the case of an accident.

According to Ilana, airbags reduce driver deaths by as much as 40% in the case of a side impact. There aren’t statistics for the passengers currently available, though it’s reasonable to conclude that survival rates are respectable.

Overall, the airbag may reduce a driver’s death by as much as 39% and front-seat passenger death by 32%. When combined with a seatbelt, the risk of death decreases by 69%.

Therefore, wearing a seatbelt and driving with an airbag significantly reduces your chance of dying in a crash by over half, especially if you’re in a side or front collision.

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In many cases, you risk impacting your head on the steering wheel or dashboard when you’re not utilizing an airbag. In many cases, this can lead to severe head trauma and even facial damage.

The point of an airbag is to prevent you from hitting your head on something in the car. It may come out with some force, but this force is necessary to prevent you from hurting yourself.

How Do Airbags Work?

How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags have a sensor that detects when a crash has occurred. Typically, the car has to be moving at least 25 km/h or 15 mph.

If the crash is severe enough, this system will trigger the airbag to inflate rapidly through the use of an inflator that burns chemicals. These chemicals produce vast volumes of air very quickly, which allows airbags to inflate in milliseconds.

The steering wheel and dashboard are designed to split open with this force.

With front airbags, the passenger’s head should strike the bag at this point. It prevents them from moving forward anymore and eliminates the chance to hit the steering wheel or dashboard.

Next, small holes in the bag allow it to deflate rather quickly.

All of this occurs in about 100 milliseconds. Therefore, no one is going to be suffocated by an airbag if it functions correctly. Rather, it simply deflates before that becomes an issue.

Can An Airbag Kill You?

There are some cases where an airbag may kill people. However, these are usually in crashes where death is the most likely outcome. In other words, if an airbag kills you, you are likely going to die as a result of the car accident.

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Therefore, utilizing an airbag is still recommended. It can’t always save you, but it can decrease the likelihood of death by a large percentage.

It should also be noted that different people are more likely to be injured than others. For instance, if you’re on the shorter end of the height spectrum, the likelihood of an airbag harming you increases, as they are designed to save people of average height.

Therefore, if you fall out of this average, the airbag may not deploy at the right angle for you, causing potential neck injuries.

Other injuries can occur from the airbag’s deployment, though the airbag itself may not technically cause the damage. For instance, the opening of the steering wheel may cause facial lacerations if you are sitting too close to it.

You can significantly increase your chance of not getting injured by ensuring that you’re sitting far enough away from the steering wheel. If you can’t reach the pedals when sitting at least 10 inches away, you should purchase pedal extenders.

Listed below are some additional things you can do to increase your safety:

  • Always use a seatbelt. The seatbelt and airbag are designed to work together. If you aren’t wearing a seatbelt, you may fling forward too quickly, which may cause the airbag to injure you.
  • Sit upright. Leaning to one side or forward may put your head at the wrong location when you crash. Therefore, the airbag may injure you when it deploys.
  • Don’t put anything between you and the airbag. Anything you put between you and your airbag will be pushed into your face should you crash, which can cause injuries.
  • Don’t carry sharp objects. Sharp objects you’re holding or that are in your shirt pockets can be hit by the airbag and cause injuries.
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Can Airbags Deploy Without Impact?

Can Airbags Deploy Without Impact?

Sometimes airbags malfunction or don’t work correctly. Occasionally, airbags can deploy randomly, which often occurs when the sensor is not working and “detects” a crash that isn’t there.

In this case, the airbag may cause an injury. If this occurs too often, it may prompt the company to recall the vehicle. As well, you’ll need to get the airbag replaced and likely file with your insurance.

In sporadic cases, airbags may simply explode and send shrapnel throughout the car, which can cause serious injury. Fortunately, though, these problems are caught quickly and result in recalls.

To find out more, you can also see our posts on how long do airbags last, if you can put airbags in an old car, and how many airbags are in a car.


It’s highly recommended that you use airbags as directed, because while they may sometimes cause death during accidents and malfunctions, they also save many lives and often reduce the chance of death by nearly 30%.

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