One of the most common reasons for eye trauma during a crash is the release of an airbag. When the airbag releases, it inflates at up to 200 mph. The bag can go from being inside the vehicle to fully inflated in a literal blink of the eye. Once it deploys, it begins to deflate immediately, helping absorb the shock from your body falling forward onto it without as much direct impact to the steering wheel or dashbord.

The trouble with airbags is that the speed at which they’re released combined with a person’s body being thrown forward can make for a dangerous situation. It’s possible to hit the airbag hard enough to cause bruising and damage to the eyes during a car crash.

It’s particularly common to be hurt by the airbag if you’re not in the correct position when it deploys. For instance, if you aren’t wearing a seat belt, it’s possible to slide under the deploying airbag, which would mean a direct hit to your head or face. This is why those who have an airbag in their vehicle need to use a seat belt every time.

To avoid injury, it’s best to sit at least 10 inches away from the airbag while it’s deploying. For many people, this is nearly impossible, as they sit closer than 10 inches from the steering wheel. To be safe, you should do everything you can to back as far from the steering wheel as possible when you drive. If the airbag deploys, you want to put a good distance between you and it, so it doesn’t impact you while inflating.

How does an airbag cause eye trauma?

It can happen in a few ways. First, if you’re too close to the airbag, the force of the impact could cause damage to the eyes or the eye socket. 

Airbags may also damage the eyes as a result of contact with glasses or other accessories on the face. Eyeglasses could shatter or get pushed into the eye, which could, hypothetically, cause lacerations or contusions to the eye. Even a direct impact with the airbag without accessories on the face could result in the eye or eye socket suffering from contusions. The bones around the socket could shatter upon impact as well, potentially pushing into or damaging the eye or optic nerve.

Eye injuries are possible with airbags, but many believe that having airbags is still safer than not having them. Those who are hurt need to seek emergency care to preserve their sight.