Audra Tatum rode shotgun while her husband drove to go pick up their children one weekend in 2015. Though her husband had warned her time and time again, she put her feet on the dashboard as they drove. She always told him she would have enough time to move her feet during a crash.
But this time was not like the others. It proved Audra—and anyone who may be tempted to use the same logic—wrong. She did not have enough time to move her feet when they T-boned a vehicle that pulled out in front of them. Everyone else walked away with minor bruises and cuts, but the impact from the airbag sent Audra’s foot flying sole-first toward her face, breaking her ankle, femur, and arm on impact. “I was looking at the bottom of my foot facing up at me,” she told CBS News. And now she’s made it her mission to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
If many of us were honest, we’ve probably thought the same thing that Audra did, that it’s possible to move your feet in time. It’s such a prevalent concept that the Science Channel’s “Mythbusters” reboot, starring Jon Lung and Brian Louden, took on seeing if it was lethal in their introductory season. The two rigged a crash simulator and test dummy—no, it wasn’t the original Buster—to see just how much damage could be done.
The results are cringe-worthy.
Airbags use a small explosive charge to detonate and release gas to fill the airbag, and they must do that quickly to prevent you from smacking against the dashboard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states airbags inflate in less than 1/20th of a second. It’s the kind of speed that can turn deadly if not properly monitored, as the Takata airbag recall has proved. But even if not defective, an airbag can seriously injure a vehicle occupant if he or she is too close when it inflates. That’s why NHTSA recommends keeping a 10-inch distance between you and an airbag cover, whether that be a dash or a steering wheel.
The Mythbusters captured the results of not heeding that warning in slow motion. In simulated tests for a crash at 20-30 miles per hour with feet resting above the dash, the dummy’s legs bend in painfully unnatural ways.
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When the dummies’ legs were positioned directly on the dash, just as much damage-inducing leg bending occurred.
While Audra’s experience proves it’s not always deadly to ride with your feet on the dashboard, any myth that it’s safe is busted.