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Feet on the Dashboard

The warmer weather this past weekend brought out a summer car ritual, one that admittedly is on my large list of car-culture pet peeves — things like stuffed animals in the rear-window ledge, or vocoder-heavy R&B (can we call for a moratorium on this device, please?) played at top decibel on my street.

I’m talking about feet on the dashboard. OK, yeah, call me uptight, neurotic, etc., but I tend to be rather repulsed by the site of bare feet in a public environment that isn’t the beach. Maybe it was those hacky-sack players on the quad in college. In business class to New Delhi I had to gently rebuke the passenger behind me, a kindly businessman who nevertheless saw fit to rest his unadorned foot on my armrest, just behind my elbow. The profusion of “mandals” leaves me cold.

But with alarming frequency one will spy, in the neighboring lane, a pair of bare feet propped up on the dashboard, or even dangling out the window (of the passenger side, of course; when you see this on the driver’s side, it brings up a whole other level of concerns). The phenomenon seems to tilt, demographically, towards a male driver and a female passenger. Again, call me uptight, but if there’s one thing I don’t want on my car’s interior surfaces it’s the oils, exfoliated skin, fungal detritus, etc., of someone’s feet. But the real issue, of course, is airbag deployment. When activated, airbags burst forth at around 200 MPH (and remember, you’ll be going forward), with tremendous loads that get higher the closer one is to the airbag. According to one study:

For example, at a distance of four inches from the airbag face to the chest plate, the deploying airbag exerted a maximum load of 912 pounds when released. In the slow motion video clip captured by Dr. Kowalski’s high speed camera, one can clearly see the chest plate on the fixture bow upward as the airbag pushes against it.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to picture what would happen to one’s legs if driven forward at such speeds and loads by an airbag; I don’t have statistics, but there must be numbers on injuries caused by airbags due to non-standard seating arrangements, or some such.

I looked in my copy of Accidental Injury: Biomechanics and Prevention, by Alan M. Hanum and John W. Melvin, but found nothing on the subject of airbags and feet. I did find, however, this rather sobering passage: “A laboratory study by Lau et al (1993) examined the potential for injury from out-of-position anesthetized swine with deploying driver airbags… splenic lacerations were the most frequent abdominal injury, often extending through the thickness of the spleen.”

It’s not a direct comparison, but extrapolating from this it seems like nothing good is going to happen if a crash were to occur and your feet were propped up at eye level — whether you were wearing shoes or not.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 11:40 am and is filed under Cars, Drivers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Feet on the Dashboard”

  1. Abhishek Says:

    For a non-airbag movie type crash involving feet on dashboard or rather out the window video, watch the first half of Deathproof by Tarantino. Heck, watch the entire movie. It is very entertaining.

  2. Thomas Kent Says:

    I’ve often wondered what would happen to the arm of those drivers you see with their wrist draped across the top of the steering wheel.
    I imagine the least they would get is a broken fore arm and possibly a broken nose when their head goes forward and the arm is driven back by the air bag.

  3. Sean Says:

    I used to have a friend who would put her feet on my dashboard and it grossed me out. Finally, once I explained the airbag concern, she stopped doing it and hasn’t done it since.

    I noticed the back of my steering wheel has indentations at 9 and 3 for my fingers to keep my hands out of the way of the airbag, too.

  4. DoctorJayB Says:

    My parents used to tell me someone would cut off my fingers if I held them outside the window. Now with power windows I just silently crush my kid’s digits from the driver seat.

  5. aaron Says:

    Don’t forget decapitation. People who sit too close to the airbag get their heads lifted up and back with enough force to snap the spinal cord.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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