Air bags cushion impact during front- and side-impact crashes and protect the heads, necks, chests - and lives - of passengers who practice proper air bag safety. While air bags save lives, they can also cause injuries.

In the blink of an eye, a sensor connected to an air bag can detect sudden deceleration and send an electrical signal that inflates the bag with nitrogen gas. This all happens quickly and with much force. So if someone is not properly restrained in a seat belt or if someone is sitting too close to the air bag, the air bag can cause injury, usually minor bruises and abrasions. Under rare circumstances the blow from an inflated air bag can be serious or even fatal.

Always wear your seat belt. Air bags are no substitute for safety belts. Wear lap belts as low over the hips as possible, not over the abdomen. The shoulder belt should drape over the shoulder and chest with minimal slack. Check that children riding in the backseat have their shoulder straps securely placed and not slipped behind their back or arm.

Give air bags their distance. Adult or older child passengers riding in the front seat should be securely buckled up with their seats situated as far back as possible. The driver should be at least a safe 10 inches away from the steering wheel with hands placed at the 10- and 2-o'clock positions to give the air bag the space it needs to inflate properly.

Kids have to sit in the backseat. Air bags are designed to protect adults and older children. For that reason, children under the age of 12 should always sit in the backseat in age- and size-appropriate restraint systems. Rear-facing infant safety seats should be positioned away from any side air bags, preferably in the center backseat. If you must install multiple seats, consult your car seat manual for the best way to position near a side air bag.

If you have absolutely no alternative but to place an infant safety seat or booster seat in the front, do so after deactivating the air bag, adjusting the seat to the rearmost track position, and tightly installing the infant safety seat according to the manufacturer's instructions. One additional word of warning: door-mounted side air bags installed in the backseat of a vehicle can injure a child if he or she is leaning against the air bag when it inflates.

Think carefully before switching your air bags off. Some may choose to install an on-off switch for their air bags. Some do so to accommodate children or infant safety seats in the front seat of a vehicle, while others do so because of a medical condition or because they must sit nearer to the steering wheel. Be warned, though, that children are always safer riding in the backseat, even without the potential protection an air bag might offer. With an on-off switch, one must also be diligent about turning it on and off at appropriate situations. In general, it is recommended to not turn off air bags.