Airbag Safety and Best Practices

In North America Airbags, aka Supplemental Restraint System (SRS), first started being installed in cars back in mid-1970’s and have been required by law since 1989.

We all understand the basics – in the event of a collision, the airbags (but perhaps not all of them) will deploy to help protect the occupants. Pretty simple in a nutshell. How they do that is very complicated as it uses accelerometers (G-Force sensors) placed throughout the vehicle and some very powerful onboard computers to send the signal out to inflate the individual airbags that are required depending on the type of impact detected.

What most people don’t realize is that an airbag deploys at over 300km/hr (200mph) and are fully inflated in 0.03 of a second, which is four times faster than the blink of an eye. The idea is that the occupant collides with an inflated airbag, and not one that is still inflating.

Which brings me to seating position. It is best practice is to ensure that your body is at least 20cm-25.5cm (8-10 inches) away from the airbag so that it has sufficient space to inflate before you collide with it. If your body is positioned closer, you could suffer some pretty severe injuries from the collision, like broken ribs or even a damaged heart.

What’s also important to think about is your hand position on the steering wheel. When an airbag deploys, it will most likely blow your hands off the wheel. Not always, but usually it will. Many drivers love to hold the wheel with just one hand at the 12 o’clock position.

Remember the speed at which airbags deploy? You will punch yourself in the face at over 300km/hr! I call that a big ouch and is the cause of severe facial trauma often seen in Emergency Rooms. For those of you who hold the wheel at six o’clock…think about where you will punch yourself at 300km/hr! I don’t care what sex you are, that’s a very sensitive area! It’s also important to ensure that no part of your hands are resting on the airbag or across the seams from where it deploys.

Ideally, you should always keep both hands on the wheel for maximum control of the vehicle and hold the wheel at the 9 & 3 positions. Some people still hold the wheel at 10 & 2 and many driving schools teach this, but 9 & 3 offers much more control and a wider range of steering is available (like making very tight turns) before having to adjust your hands.

Some driving schools are starting to encourage holding the wheel at the 8 & 4 positions so that the airbag blows your hands downward. Please do NOT do this. This offers very little control of the vehicle. When someone insists on using this technique at the driving school that I work with the most (the ILR Car Control School), the driver loses control of their car…every…single…time.

It’s also critically important that you NEVER put your feet up on the dashboard. The injuries are nothing short of horrific (I may do a separate post on this alone). Injuries from airbags are no joke and I really didn’t want to include them in this post. You can easily look up some images of airbag injuries online but be warned…they are very graphic.

Just remember to keep your hands at 9 & 3, stay back at least 20cm (8in), keep your feet on the floor and enjoy the drive.

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Prescription Medicine, Drugs and Driving

This can often be a confusing issue. Whether we like it or not, at some point we’re going to end up taking some form of medication. Perhaps it’s just something from the shelf at your local pharmacy, known as Over The Counter (OTC) to treat the symptoms of the Common Cold, or perhaps it’s something your doctor prescribed to you for either a short-term illness or for something chronic and long-term.

Regardless of what it’s for, have you ever stopped to think if you should be driving while taking it? The wording of the rules may be different from country to country, but under the Criminal Code of Canada, a person cannot operate, be in care of or control a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug.

There is no wiggle room here.

If your doctor prescribed you a medication that in any way affects your physical abilities or reflexes or affects your cognitive abilities, you are not legally able to drive. Now in most cases, your prescription medication isn’t going to affect you in such a way but some do, especially pain killers. As a rule, ask your doctor for advice.

This doesn’t just hold true for prescription medications but also for over the counter medicines like those used for treating Cold symptoms (ie. Nyquil or Benadryl) that help you sleep. Yes, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Ask your pharmacist and read the warning labels and see how the medication affects you before you attempt to drive.


The same goes for Cannabis. Just because it’s legal now in many American States and nationally in Canada, it doesn’t mean you can smoke, consume, ingest, or in any way absorb it, and then operate a vehicle. It doesn’t matter how legal it is or even if you have a prescription for it.

Yes, it’s true that CBD doesn’t have the same effect as THC, but it still makes changes to the body. Each person needs to figure out how it affects them personally, but it’s important to realize that if police perform a drug test and they detect cannabis in your system, you’re in for some serious legal trouble.

Remember that driving is a privilege. Just because it’s legal to take certain drugs or medicines, it does not give you the right to drive if it impairs you physically or mentally. It’s not just a driving offence…it’s a criminal one, and having a criminal record can follow you for life and also prohibit you from visiting many countries.

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