I’m going to be bold and choose a hill to die on here: airbags are good. They protect against injuries and save lives. Some people online seem to think otherwise, however, and they were happy to weigh in on a post about a Tesla Model 3 crash. Obviously, these are just a few selected comments from a few misinformed people, but they’re funny enough — representative of a certain brain genius mindset — that they’re probably worth sharing.
Twitter user Keubiko posted screenshots of what appear to be comments in a private Facebook group (the group did not appear in searches for the the text of the comments on Facebook’s site). The initial post was reasonable enough, but the comments quickly went off the deep end. From Keubiko:
Plenty to unpack here. Don’t miss the cult replies. ???? pic.twitter.com/onA7QYHvwU
— Keubiko (@Keubiko) October 4, 2021
We’ll go frame by frame and unpack what’s going on here. The original post appears to be one of genuine confusion — someone was in an accident and wants to know if it’s normal for airbags to not deploy in a 97 km/h collision.
Whether the airbag actually should have deployed is a very good question. The front of the Model 3 appears pretty bashed-in, judging by the hood, but the front fenders don’t appear to have moved as much. The post says that another driver “failed to yield”, without giving information about the closing speed between the two vehicles. Maybe the impact was big enough that the airbags should have deployed, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe a last second stab on the brakes slowed the car down sufficiently. It’s hard to judge when you’re in the car.
Commenters, eager to rush to Tesla’s aid, seem to have answered a different question. “Should airbags ever deploy?” seems like the sort of question that was answered thirty years ago, when legislation made airbags mandatory on new vehicles, but maybe not!
At least our first respondent keeps things vague enough to be sort of true. Sure, having an airbag deploy on you sucks. It’s loud, the cabin feels like it’s full of smoke, the doctor at your college’s health centre says you’re “mildly concussed” and your friends never let you forget it.
Having an airbag deploy on you when needed, however, is far better than the alternative. Whiplash and spinal injuries can be very serious, and airbags make them less likely to occur. If you’re in a serious collision, having your airbags not deploy is absolutely not something to be thankful for.
Things only get worse from there. The next reply evokes the Takata airbag scandal as just one of many ways an airbag can kill a vehicle’s occupants.
Technically, yes, inhaled airbag propellants have been cited as a cause of death before. However, under normal circumstances propellants are meant to mostly be contained inside the airbag. According to commenter and friend of Jalopnik Santiago of Escuderia Boricua, some amount of unburned propellent often escapes the bag to end up in the cabin. If you’ve been in a crash where an airbag inflates, it’s the smokey stuff that hangs out in the cabin. But as he also notes, it’s a lot better than having your face hit the steering wheel.
The last screenshotted comment, though, is truly the pièce de résistance. “Airbags are meant to cause damage to a human” is the kind of conspiracy theory I love — the kind that can be disproven instantly. Hook it to my veins.
The human body, famous for being entirely rigid due to the presence of bones, does in fact move around in a crash. That’s the reason professional auto racers need a HANS device — their locked-down harnesses don’t allow the body to move around and dissipate energy from a crash. Consumer cars, like the Model 3, use a three-point belt that’s specifically designed to let the body shift and twist in a controlled manner during a crash.
While we all know of the weird nerds desperate to defend Elon Musk and Tesla, no road car is so great as to entirely forego the need for airbags. They’re an important part of a car’s safety infrastructure, and they need to work properly. Whether they did in this case is a good question to ask, but these sorts of cultish responses don’t add anything valuable to the conversation.