Air bags are safety devices that protect your head and upper body from injury in a collision. They prevent the driver's head from hitting the steering wheel, and the front passenger's head from striking the dashboard.
Air bags are most useful in high-speed crashes, where they can prevent serious injury. Remember, though, that seat belts protect you in every kind of crash, at any speed; they should always be used together with your air bag.
While air bags save many lives each year, they don't protect you in every kind of crash. They only deploy in frontal impacts, not rear-end collisions, side impacts (unless your vehicle comes equipped with a side air bag) or in rollovers. Air bags have also been known to deploy in low-speed (10 to 15 km/h) crashes.
Air bags cushion the head as it moves forward after an impact. However, it expands at explosive speed--more than 300 km/h--and opens in 1/20th of a second. As a result, deploying air bags can cause injuries. While most are minor bruises or abrasions, some can be serious or fatal.
People sitting close to the air bag module are the most at risk, as are small children. Adjusting your seat back as far as possible at least 25 cm (10 in) away from the steering wheel to allow the air bag room to deploy is the best way to prevent injury. Children should be properly belted, and should ride in the back seat if they're under 12.
Never place a rear-facing child car seat in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with air bags.
"Smart" air bags equipped with sensors adjust the air inflation based on crash speed and driver/passenger seat position reducing the risk of injury during inflation.
Visit the Transport Canada website for information on vehicles that have been recalled due to unsafe air bags.
If you have any questions about air bags, please contact our Road Safety department at 1-888-767-7640 (toll free) or 204-985-8737 in Winnipeg, or Transport Canada's Road Safety Information Centre at 1-800-333-0371.