Before the early 1970s, seat belts and shoulder restraints were not standard equipment in automobiles. And it wasn't until 1985 that the first airbags began appearing in cars.
The positive impact those two innovations have had on the reduction of spinal cord injuries cannot be underestimated. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of spinal cord injury. Motor vehicle accidents have accounted for more than a third of all reported cases of spinal cord injury, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Database. In addition, motor vehicle accidents also account for other spinal-related injuries, such as whiplash, fractures, and herniated discs.
A respected eight-year-long university study, for example, confirmed without a doubt that the combination of airbags and seat belts effectively reduced spinal injuries from automobile accidents.
Larger vehicles, such as trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), have statistically trailed the safety requirements for passenger vehicles, as well as such innovations as padded dashboards, collapsible steering columns, anti-lock brakes and side airbags.
Airbags have been controversial over the years because some people have been severely injured or killed from their deployment. Significant advancements have been made to airbags in recent years, resulting in greater safety. The important lesson is this: Always wear your seat belt and allow 10 inches between your breastbone and the steering wheel to prevent injury from airbag deployment. Children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat properly restrained. Children riding in the front passenger seat should sit as far back from the airbag as possible.