Hot airbags

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: I read in one of your recent columns about how so many carmakers are using eight or 10 airbags. I’m wondering if this is just a game of one-upsmanship or if they really save lives?

A: Determining whether a non-fatality in a wreck was definitely attributable to seatbelt-wearing (or a fatality to not wearing a seatbelt) is not an absolutely precise science. There are, of course, always wrecks in which there are completely unexpected results relating to survivors or non-survivors.

That said there are some figures: In 2011 (the last year for which figures are available), 2,204 lives were saved because of frontal airbags, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Side airbags — which protect the head, chest and abdomen — reduce driver deaths by about 37 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some other airbag types, like those that protect the knees, probably don’t save a lot of lives, (and don’t purport to be lifesavers). They’re intended to be a means of minimizing some injuries; experts say they accomplish that, but I was unable to find any figures.

A reader weighs in. This one, also related to my earlier column on airbags, is from a reader in Missouri. “I wanted to tell you about an injury that would have been prevented (by a center-console airbag). My friend and her boyfriend were hit head-on at over 70 mph. (The other driver was texting). The force of the collision caused my friend’s left arm to swing out, breaking the driver’s nose so badly he had to have reconstructive surgery and be off work for two months.”

Which is why those still-rare center airbags that inflate between a driver and a passenger will probably grow in popularity.

Q: Two local car repair shops have offered car care 101 classes just for women recently. Don’t you find that sexist?

A: Nope. There continues to be a difference, I believe, between most men and most women in terms of basic knowledge about how cars work and how to address problems. I like that there are opportunities like this. This — or any other course — could be presented in a sexist way. We’ll assume they are straightforward and without sexist undertones!

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email