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Air bags alone aren't enough to prevent tragedy, experts say

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OGDEN — Some motorists don't buckle up because they think the air bags alone will save them in a crash, but experts say they are not enough.

In a crash at highway speeds, those who are not buckled up are twice as likely to be sent to the hospital and eight times more likely to die at the scene than restrained occupants.

However, one in 10 Utahns still choose not to buckle up.

Police officers say they hear all kinds of excuses for not wearing a seat belt. The excuse that air bags alone will save someone is completely false, said Autoliv Prototype Operations Manager Scott Jones.

"It's critical that every occupant wear a seat belt," Jones said. "For our air bag to work properly, the occupant has to be in the proper position, which the seat belt ensures."

Autoliv in Ogden is the world's largest safety system supplier, selling air bags and seat belts to all major vehicle manufacturers. They said they estimate that their systems saves 25,000 lives every year and prevent ten times as many injuries.

They're always working to make cars safer, but it doesn't help when people don't buckle up and make excuses instead.

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The seat belt and air bag are part of an integrated system. Representatives at Autoliv said they don't even run tests without a seat belt because if they did the dummy would fly through the air into the work area and potentially damage some of their equipment.

"The seat belt keeps the person in the proper position so that the air bag can supplement the seat belt and protect the occupant," Jones said.

Autoliv engineers said passengers do not have to maintain perfect posture in their seat at all times, but if they put their feet up on the dash, curl up in the seat or even sit on the shoulder strap, the potential for serious injury rises.

"It's critical that they wear that seat belt so that we're keeping everybody safe," Jones said.

Autoliv gathers a variety of data from tests.

"We want to make sure we have an excellent cushion and we save the person's life," said Autoliv Test Technician Darren Cannon.

Autoliv recently announced a new adaptable seat belt. The new seat belt retractor can tune its restraining force individually to each person in the car and the crash severity without any sensor.

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Jed Boal

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