When a senior citizen is riding or driving in a car, the first thing to check in regards to the airbag is the seatbelt. Is the belt fastened correctly? Is the positioning done accurately? The seatbelt should come just over the shoulder, not against or across the neck. According to ConsumerAffairs.com, using a seatbelt and keeping the breastbone of the senior driver or passenger at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel or dashboard will reduce the risk of a serious head injury in an accident by up to 85 percent. If the seatbelt is going across the neck instead of the shoulder, sitting on a cushion could help position it properly, as can moving the seat as far back as possible, while still being able to effectively make use of the gas and brake pedals.
Proper positioning is the key safety factor in a vehicle that contains airbags. If the seatbelt is not positioned correctly, the senior citizen should ride in the back seat instead. If the senior citizen is the driver, the solution may be to disconnect the airbags, but only if certain conditions apply. There are only a handful of conditions that are recommended by the NHTSA for disconnection of a vehicle's airbags and even then, approval is required.
Medical conditions approved by the NHTSA include, in certain instances, scoliosis, achondroplasia, and atlantoaxial instability. Medical conditions and situations that are not approved reasons to disconnect the airbags include advanced age, angina, arthritis, asthma, breast reconstruction, back or neck surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, eyeglasses, facial injury or reconstructive surgery, hyperacusis, median sternotomy, mastectomy, opthalmologic surgery, osteogenesis imperfecta, osteoporosis, pacemakers, pregnancy, scoliosis, supplemental oxygen and tinnitus.
Also approved as a safety reason to disconnect the airbags is if the proper 10 inch positioning between the breastbone and steering wheel or dashboard cannot be obtained, even through alternative methods, such as using a cushion and moving the seat's position.
Overall, it is safest to use an air bag with proper seatbelt positioning for the best protection in an automobile accident. Only in special situations and for certain conditions should the on-off switch be used to disconnect the airbags. It is generally safer to travel in a vehicle that has working airbags.
While it may, at first, seem logical to immediately disconnect the airbags for elderly or small adults that may not always be the safest decision. Air bags play an important role in protecting accident victims from more serious injuries and even death.
Before making the decision to disconnect the airbag for safety reasons, senior citizens should seek the help and advice of a licensed medical professional. A licensed professional will be better able to evaluate the medical risk factors and make an informed recommendation. For more information on disconnecting airbags for small adults or senior citizens, try your local Department of Motor Vehicle office. Many have brochures and other pertinent information, should you have a medical condition that warrants disconnecting your vehicle's air bags.
More Traffic Safety Resources:
Federal Highway Administration