Ask The Traffic School Instructor: Are Airbags Enough Protection?

Question: If my car is equipped with airbags, do I still need to wear a seat belt?

Answer: The technical term for airbags (and you’ll see this embossed on your steering wheel) is the Secondary Restraint System or SRS. Airbags aren’t meant to be the primary restraint system, they are only meant as a backup system. They won’t work effectively if you aren’t wearing your seat belt. In fact, traffic deaths have been attributed to airbags because the driver was either sitting too close to the airbag or, as in the great majority of cases, not wearing their seat belt. In a crash, your body will continue traveling forward at the speed the car was going before the crash until it is stopped by something else (Newton’s laws of motion). If you’re wearing your seat belt, the seat belt will restrain you and, if the airbag deploys, it will act as an extra cushion to keep your face from smashing into the steering column or dashboard. The airbag deploys at 200 mph in one-tenth of a second. If you aren’t wearing your seat belt, your body will fly forward as the airbag is traveling toward you at 200 mph. In that case, the crash forces will be tremendous and can easily be fatal. Remember also that the airbag doesn’t deploy in every crash. If the angle of the crash is such that the airbag sensors aren’t actuated, the airbags won’t deploy. Airbags are a great life saving device when used properly and that means using them in conjunction with the seat belt. Seat belts are the most important, first, and primary safety device in the vehicle.