Pets and airbags do not mix

Pets and airbags do not get along

Every time I see someone driving down the road with a pet in their lap, I cringe. Obviously these people have no idea of the catastrophic results of an airbag deployment.

The dog they so obviously think the world of, would be instantly crushed, likely resulting in terrible damage to the person holding it.

Despite years of public education efforts by governments, manufacturers, traffic safety experts and zealots such as myself, many people remain blissfully unaware of the likelihood of an air bag deployment and the forces involved – even in a minor crash, at relatively low speed in the city.

These people are unaware of the forces at play. They probably think “It is OK I was just driving down the road, across town, going slow etc.” Little do they realize the most common incidents that result in airbag deployment happen “down the road, in town, at slow speeds etc.

This is a good time for a little physics lesson. When you strike something and your vehicle comes to a sudden stop, anything in it continues at speed until striking something solid. That includes you, Fido, that bag of groceries on the back seat, anything on the rear parcel shelf or in the trunk.  

When that apple hit our old friend Mr. Newton on the head, he determined that Force (F) is equal to Mass (M) times Acceleration (A). Unlike most laws, the laws of physics cannot be ignored or modified by a regulatory body. In a very moderate crash from say 50 km/hr, a mass in the vehicle will be subjected to approximately 20 to 25 times the force of gravity i.e. 20 – 25 G’s until they strike something – like the seat belts which are carefully designed to stretch and gradually reduce that force – or the dash or windshield – or the oncoming airbag.

Let’s say Fido is a tiny little thing, a five kilo lapdog. In that slow speed collision, Fido would instantly weigh 20-25 times as much – about 200 – 250 lbs., or about 100 kilos! If Fido were larger or the speed of the incident greater, the forces grow exponentially.

Nobody could hold a 250-lb dog in that incident, even if there were no other influencing factor. But there is – airbags!

Frontal airbags are designed to deploy at vehicle speeds of roughly 15 km/hr and upward in a frontal impact. Side bags at lower speeds because there is less room to deploy before the occupant is thrown into them. Airbags deploy at speeds varying from 100 – 300 km/hr depending on the speed and resulting forces of the crash and the size and position of the occupant. Sensors in the seat know how much you weigh and how far you are from the dash.

The bags have to reach full size and provide maximum protection within fractions of a second, unfolding with serious force and speed. Guess what happens to Fido, loosely positioned between the rapidly growing airbag and the person holding it who is moving forward very quickly, even if belted?

People and their pets are often inseparable, but not only in the figurative sense of the word. That precious pooch carried in your lap or arms could become a very intimate part of your anatomy!

If you truly care for your pet, do not carry it on your lap. Make sure it is properly restrained in a carrying crate or by a properly designed harness. That way it will be around to provide some much needed comfort after the crash.

About Richard 166 Articles
At the age of five I was already obsessed with all things automotive being able to identify the make and model of car by just the sound of its engine going down the street in front of our house in the small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Although I have been covering and writing about the automotive scene for more than 40 years and the light still grows brightly.