Since the invention of the automobile in the 19th century, driver and passenger safety has significantly improved. In the '50s and '60s, seat belts became increasingly common in cars, and in the early '70s air bags were introduced. Despite a few disadvantages, the use of these two items has saved numerous lives.
Seat Belt Advantages
Seat belts are responsible for saving thousands of lives each year by restraining passengers from being thrown out of their seat or even out of the vehicle. Seat belts are made from a special material designed to be very durable but also to stretch just enough to disperse the energy from a sudden collision, softening the effect of the sudden impact.
Of all the automobile-accident-related deaths, an estimated 60 per cent were people who were not wearing their seat belt. Oftentimes, the most serious injuries are a result of the collision that occurs once a body is thrown from the seat as opposed to the primary collision the vehicle is involved in. With a seat belt, this second collision is easily preventable.
Seat Belt Disadvantages
Although they greatly reduce the incidence of death and serious injuries, seat belts are not perfect. Often, they contribute to accident-related injuries, as is described by the term "seat belt syndrome." In many cases, the fibres of the seat belt can cause harm to the chest and abdominal areas. This may include severe cuts and bruises where the seat belt lies across you, as well as more serious damage to the internal organs like tearing of the colon or diaphragm. In some cases the lumbar vertebrae may even be fractured or dislocated.
Children are at the highest risk for seat-belt-related injuries and should be closely monitored after a car crash even if they appear unharmed at first glance.
Air Bag Advantages
Air bags offer additional protection in car accidents, and when used in combination with seat belts, they reduce the risk of head, neck and chest injuries by 75 per cent. Inflation is automatically triggered by sudden impacts, providing immediate protection from striking the dashboard with your head in the case of a collision. Air bags deflate immediately after the collision so as not to suffocate the victim.
Air Bag Disadvantages
Despite the obvious benefits, there also are some risks associated with air bags. Most prominently, the speed at which the air bag deploys can sometimes cause whiplash, potentially fatal head and chest injuries or concussions. This is especially true for drivers or passengers not wearing seat belts, as they may be thrown forward before the actual collision if the breaks are slammed on.