A heart balloon embraces a knee in a symbolic depiction of a driver's knee airbag

Is a driver’s knee airbag important?

Safety Benefits and Drawbacks of the Driver’s Knee Airbag

You may have heard tell of a little airbag that pops out of some vehicles at knee-level and cushions the driver’s knee. As one would predict, this device is known as the “driver’s knee airbag.” It’s been becoming more common in new cars, and both automakers and reviewers seem to enjoy mentioning its presence in vehicles.

But the idea of a driver’s knee airbag may sound a little ridiculous to some. Does the driver’s knee airbag actually contribute to safety?

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The IIHS has found driver’s knee airbags to bring little safety benefit. New research conducted by the institute shows the gizmo to have a negligible effect on injury risk. In some cases, the knee bags may even increase the risk of injury.

Airbags are certainly a highly important, valuable feature. Over the years, they’ve prevented tens of thousands of deaths. However, automakers may be stretching themselves to find new airbags to put into vehicles already loaded with them.

Here are some safety features that do make a difference.

What are driver’s knee airbags?

Driver’s knee airbags typically deploy from the lower dashboard. The intent of the bag is to distribute impact forces and thereby reduce leg injuries. It’s also thought that by controlling lower body movement, driver’s knee bags may help reduce forces acting on the occupant’s chest and abdomen.

Negligible Effect on Injuries

The IIHS decided to investigate these theories and see what effect the driver’s knee airbag actually had. By looking at crash test data and information from real-world crash reports, the IIHS found that knee airbags only had a small effect on crash test dummies’ injuries.

In the real-world crash data, knee airbags were found to reduce overall risk of injury by half a percentage point. Though any reduction in risk is welcome, this is not a statistically significant result, meaning that the difference doesn’t actually demonstrate anything because this small of a change could just be a fluke in the data.

Not only is safety important, but comfort is too.

Do knee airbags help occupants without seat belts?

Part of the goal in installing knee airbags was to help vehicles pass tests with unbelted crash test dummies. With this in mind, it is possible that knee airbags could help reduce the injury of unbelted occupants in crashes. In tests performed by the IIHS, the dummies are always belted.

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