18 April 2013:
Sitting correctly when driving will reduce your injuries in a crash. This is according to the Automobile Association of South Africa, who said that the driver's seat came with unique hazards.
“In a crash, the driver of a vehicle has the least survival space of all the occupants,” the AA said. “The pedals in the footwell can trap the feet, and column stalks and switches can cause hand lacerations and even broken fingers. But the biggest threat is from the steering wheel, which halves the survival space available to the driver compared to other occupants.”
The AA 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 didn't have seatbelts or crumple zones, meaning that 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 airbags further improved protection for drivers, and these and other safety improvements have been proven by decades of crash-testing.
“Unfortunately, drivers don't always adopt the best seating position to take advantage of all this technology,” the AA commented. “One often sees drivers sitting too close to the steering wheel. An airbag inflates at around 300km/h and this can be dangerous to a driver who is too close to the wheel.”
The AA advises drivers to sit so that their chest is at least 30–40cm from the wheel. “This gives the airbag enough space to inflate fully without injuring you - and then allows it to absorb impact energy by deflating as you make contact with it,” the AA said. The AA also 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 airbag squarely in a crash, which could lead to additional injuries,” explained the AA.
Airbags are a supplementary restraint system designed to operate along the vehicle's crumple zones and seatbelts to reduce impact forces on occupants. “If you're not wearing a seatbelt, you may hit the steering wheel through the airbag in a severe crash, and you are also at risk of head contact with the windscreen,” he said. “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,” the AA concluded.