Do Airbags Help Reduce Whiplash?

Do Airbags Help Reduce WhiplashModern cars are equipped with a range of safety features, from automatic braking mechanisms to seatbelts. One common method used is airbags, which deploy instantly from the dashboard in order to cushion the impact during a crash. Because of these airbags, many people are able to avoid injuries from crashing into dashboards, windshields, and windows. But airbags do not protect against everything, and whiplash is the most common injury seen at auto accident clinics. While airbags undoubtedly save lives, many have wondered if they also help prevent this common injury.

What Is Whiplash?

During the impact of a car accident, inertia causes our bodies to continue moving for a moment once the car has come to a stop. Because seatbelts restrain our torsos, this typically means the head will move forward and then snap back at an unnatural speed, placing strain on the soft tissues in the neck and shoulders. These muscles and ligaments can become strained, or even tear, under these circumstances. When this occurs, you may notice pain and stiffness in the neck, trouble with movement, and headaches. It’s important to identify whiplash symptoms after an accident. Whiplash is generally easy to treat, and the majority of patients make a full recovery, but in some cases, it can be chronic and severe.

When an airbag is deployed, it may shrink the space available for the head to make these movements, reducing the chance for whiplash. However, the force of the airbag can also come into contact with the body and lead to whiplash as well.

Airbag Safety

Airbags are mandated to be in all commercial vehicles sold in the United States for a good reason: they save lives. Paired with a properly positioned head restraint, airbags have been shown to be essential to the prevention of injuries and fatalities due to car accidents. Even in cases where airbags cause mild injuries, they are preferable to the injuries prevented by the airbag. By preventing the head and chest from striking a hard surface, airbags provide additional protection relative to seatbelts. Some cars even have side airbags that further this protection.

Improved Airbag Technology

While they can help lessen the movement of whiplash, airbags were not originally designed for the prevention of the injury. However, over time, car manufacturers have realized that this is a benefit and began to shift airbag design toward whiplash prevention. For example, beginning in 2012, the Ford Focus featured airbags designed specifically to avoid whiplash. These airbags feature sensors that approximate the height and weight of the driver and passenger, inflating to more precise levels based on these factors, rather than a “one size fits all” design. By using the correct amount of pressure for a body type, the force placed on occupants is lowered and whiplash is less common while passengers are still protected.

General Motors also offers a dual-depth passenger-side airbag, in which the side airbags inflate to varying sizes based on seat position, the force of the crash, and whether a seatbelt is in use at the time. Volvo offers a similar design that changes the speed of inflation rather than the pressure, while BMW has added airbags for the knees and legs.

Preventing Whiplash

In order to avoid ending up in an auto accident clinic, airbags are one crucial element of safety, but they are most effective when paired with other safety measures. Because some car accidents are unavoidable, it is best to always follow all safety protocols, especially those that you control each time you get into a car.

Proper use of a seatbelt is crucial to keep you in a safe position, and your headrest should also be adjusted to ensure a proper fit. The top of your headrest should be at least at the tops of your ears and within 5 cm of your head. Your sear should also be the proper distance from the steering wheel, not too far forward or backward.

While airbags are part of your car’s build and not your personal choices, you can have them tested periodically, and make sure they are working properly any time they deploy. This will allow you the peace of mind to know you are protected in an accident.

If you are in a crash of any severity, you should always consult a car accident doctor to rule out or diagnose whiplash and begin treatment quickly.