What options are there for smaller drivers concerned about airbag safety?

I am a little over 5 feet tall and have to have the driver’s seat all the way forward. This places me up against the steering wheel with little space for airbags to activate. I have a 2000 Buick LeSabre, and I am afraid I would likely be killed by the airbag if I got into an accident. Am I the only person this tall who worries about this, and is it a real problem? I have looked at new sedans and the problem doesn't seem to be addressed for people of my height or less. Can the airbags be legally disengaged? Are there any new sedans that offer adjustable brake and accelerator pedals like some of the SUV's, which I do not want?

Kathy H., Tucson, Ariz.

Kathy, you are not the first person to worry about being injured by airbag deployment. It is possible for smaller-framed driver’s to experience injuries resulting from airbag deployment if they are positioned too close to the steering wheel. The risk of injury can be prevented, though, by using a seat belt and a properly adjusted seat and steering wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends drivers be at least 10 inches from the steering wheel and point the steering wheel toward the breastbone (not the head or neck) on vehicles equipped with front airbags. Wearing a seat belt is a must to benefit from airbags.

You mention a few options to cope with the close seating position, including disabling the airbag or simply buying a new car. It is possible to disable the airbag, but to do this legally you need permission from NHTSA. If you cannot position yourself to the recommended distance and you’ve decided it’s time for a new car anyway, there are sedans out there with adjustable pedals and tilt/telescoping steering wheels, not just SUVs. The combo of these two adjustability options will greatly increase the comfort and safety level for smaller drivers.

Fortunately for you, most of the cars available with adjustable pedals and telescoping steering wheels are full-size sedans similar to your 2000 Buick LeSabre. Click on each to head over to our Research section, where you can find pricing and reviews.

2008 Saturn Aura — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Chevrolet Malibu — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Chrysler 300 — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Dodge Charger — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Hyundai Azera — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Jaguar XJ — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Kia Optima — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Pontiac G6 — Tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Lincoln Town Car — Power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Mercury Grand Marquis — Power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Kia Amanti — Power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Ford Taurus — Power-adjustable foot pedals
2008 Mercury Sable — Power-adjustable foot pedals

You can find more information about airbag safety relating to smaller drivers and passengers at Safercar.gov (NHTSA) and IIHS.org (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

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Answered by Joe Bruzek on April 28, 2008 in How Safe is This Car? , What Car Should I Buy? | Permalink

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