Road safety: Take your seat

2013-06-28 12:30

There is an excellent reason why racing drivers pay so much attention to being seated correctly in the car – and it is not only for comfort as sitting correctly when driving can reduce injuries in a crash.

The AA’s Gary Ronald said: “In a crash, the driver of a vehicle has the least survival space of all the occupants. The pedals in the foot well can trap the feet, and column stalks and switches can cause hand lacerations and even broken fingers.

"However, the biggest threat is from the steering wheel, which halves the survival space available to the driver compared to other occupants.”


Ronald explained that in early vehicles, the steering wheel was connected to the steering box via heavy brackets and supports and the steering box itself was bolted to the chassis. These vehicles did not have seatbelts or crumple zones, meaning millions of drivers who were flung against the steering wheel in frontal crashes died of chest and abdominal injuries.

Research in the 1950s and 1960s led to development of padded steering wheels with impact-absorbing rims and collapsible steering columns. As crumple zone technology improved and seatbelts became more widespread, drivers became better protected from steering wheel impacts.

The development of air bags further improved protection for drivers and these and other safety improvements have been proven by decades of crash testing.

Ronald said: “Unfortunately, drivers don't always adopt the best seating position to take advantage of all this technology. One often sees drivers sitting too close to the steering wheel. An air bag inflates at around 300 km/h and this can be dangerous to a driver who is too close to the wheel.”

He advises drivers to sit so that their chest is at least 30 cm – 40 cm from the wheel.

He said: “This gives the air bag enough space to inflate fully without injuring you – and then allows it to absorb impact energy by deflating as you make contact with it.”


Ronald cautioned against sitting too far away from the steering wheel, or reclining the driver's seat excessively: “If you sit too far away, you won't contact the air bag squarely in a crash, which could lead to additional injuries.”

Air bags are a supplementary restraint system designed to operate along the vehicle's crumple zones and seatbelts to reduce impact forces on occupants.

Ronald said: “If you are not wearing a seatbelt, you may hit the steering wheel through the air bag in a severe crash and you are also at risk of head contact with the windscreen. Sitting at the correct distance from the steering wheel with your seatbelt fastened is the simplest way to minimise your risk of steering wheel-related injuries.”

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