Airbag Boom-Off Competition Boosts Blacktip Island Safety

airbag competition

Blacktip Island motorists will take turns bashing airbag covers Saturday afternoon in the second round of the Department of Public Safety’s Boom-Off airbag safety competition. (photo courtesy of Herring Frye/BI Public Safety Office)

The second round of the Blacktip Island Department of Public Safety’s inaugural Boom-Fest airbag safety competition will take place at noon Saturday at the Caribbean island’s Public Works building, event organizers announced Thursday.

“The thing started as a simple auto airbag safety check, but so many people showed up to watch, we made it a contest to get as many cars inspected as possible,” public safety head Stoney MacAdam said. “Most airbags on the island are disasters waiting to happen, what with salt air rotting the contacts. Airbags don’t go off in collisions, or they’ll go off mid-drive with no warning.

“Contestants draw straws for which car to sit in, then bash the steering wheel with a rubber mallet,” MacAdam said. “If the airbag doesn’t deploy, you move on to the next round. If it does, you move on to the island medical clinic.”

Residents say the competition builds on an island tradition.

“It’s been an unofficial bar game for years,” Jerrod Ephesians said. “People in the car parks after the pubs close dare each other to hit their airbag covers. It started when James Conlee passed out, his head hit the wheel and BOOM! James barely noticed.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ephesians said. “A bag goes off, it’ll mess you up bad. You can feel the tension build with each round. No one knows what’ll happen with each whack.”

Officials say the rules are simple.

“It’s a single-elimination, multi-round format,” public safety chief Herring Frye said. “The airbag deploys, you’re out. It doesn’t, you move on to the next round. And you’re disqualified if the crowd thinks you half-assed your whack or you lean back too much.”

“Car assignment’s totally random,” Frye said. “You can drive up in a new Honda, but draw a 20-year-old Land Rover from the hat. Those are the scary ones. British engineering’ll smack you in the face every time.”

Some in the community questioned the need for the event.

“Encouraging safety’s great, but this is really making light of a serious concern,” shopkeeper Peachy Bottoms said. “I mean, what’s next, a ‘who can drive at night without headlights’ race? Who can bail out of a burning car?

“More people are injured in Boom-Fest than in auto accidents,” Bottoms said. “And the losers use up critical medical resources. Why not just test airbags with no one in the car? Or take your chances on the road?”

Organizers say the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

“Medical staff is standing by, when possible, and we order all kinds of extra supplies for the clinic,” MacAdam said. “It’s worth the expense. It’s cheaper to treat a Boom-Off victim than an auto accident victim. And this ensures every vehicle on the island gets tested.

“We’re doing a round every Saturday to make sure everyone gets the chance to see at least one competition,” MacAdam said. “Worst case, we run out of cars before we have a clear winner. But at that point all the island cars will have been inspected.”

Contestants, meanwhile, were eager for Saturday’s second round.

“It’s like a jack-in-the-box, but full contact,” standings leader Dermot Bottoms said. “Trick is to have a few rums before you get in. After a couple of times, you get to where you kind of like it when the bag goes off.”

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