Airbags can save your life

  • Published
  • By Lisa Gonzales

In fiscal year 2021, The Department of the Air Force lost 18 motorcyclists. Inexperience, alcohol and speed were a few of the root causes of those deaths. Additionally, motorcycle riders continue to be overrepresented in fatal traffic crashes, being about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and 4 times more likely to be injured according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What should motorcyclist do to better protect themselves?

“Wearing personal protective equipment along with a Department of Transportation approved helmet can potentially eliminate injuries or even death,” said Dave Brandt the Department of the Air Force, motorcycle safety program manager “Always wear your PPE, practice every time you ride to help build your riding skills and ride within your skill level.”

Additionally, motorcyclists now have the option of wearing an airbag jacket or vest with other personal protective equipment to help reduce injuries. In 1976, Tamas Straub pioneered the development of motorcycle and equestrian airbags and through the years, motorcycle airbags have evolved. Since 2018, suits fitted with airbag systems have been required for the protection of professional racetrack riders across all classes. There have been multiple professional racetrack riders going over 100 or more miles per hour that have survived, and even walked away from a crash, while wearing airbag full body suits.

The development of airbags for motorcycles led to fuel tank mounted airbags as well as three different wearable jacket airbags. The electronic automated systems, which rely on a built-in accelerometer, gyroscopes, and Global Positioning System (GPS) to feed information to a central Engine Control Unit, uses artificial intelligence to detect loss of control. The other electronic system uses radio-linked sensors on the bike itself to detect a crash and finally the simplest system which uses a mechanical tether; a lanyard attached to the bike which pulls a ball bearing from the vest if thrown from the bike to inflate the airbag jacket.

Road-focused motorcycle airbag jackets and vests are designed to protect the chest, neck, and back from blunt force trauma. When a rider wearing the jacket or vest tethered to the motorcycle, so if thrown from the bike during a collision, the jacket will automatically inflate providing a cushion for the rider.

Accidents occur within seconds and a rider may not be able to react instinctively to protect themselves when a crash takes place. This is when the airbag device becomes useful and potentially lifesaving. In recent years motorcycle airbag use has grown throughout the riding community and due to this the cost has become more affordable. There are commercial companies that sell airbag jackets and vests ranging from just over a hundred dollars to a thousand or more depending on the model.

Kirtland Air Force Base will be the first base to receive motorcycle airbag vests to use during classes and demonstrate how they can help reduce blunt force trauma. Just like airbags in a vehicle, motorcycle airbags have been proven to save lives and help keep motorcycle riders from serious injuries or death.

The #DAFRider page and #DAFRider motorcycle video series will also give riders another avenue to learn about current standards and techniques, acquire skills, and help build a rider mentality.

The Air Force Safety Center’s Traffic and Outreach Branch created the #DAFRider series in hopes of lessening motorcycle losses. The series will run throughout the year with new videos highlighting a multitude of motorcycle topics to better prepare rides for the road.

Ride safe and keep it shiny side up!

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