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Air Bag Safety

Author / Coordinator: Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben
March 2007

In 1998, an estimated 4,759 motor vehicle occupants’ lives were saved because of deployment of air bags during a vehicle crash. Air bags and correct seat belt use together are 75% effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66% effective in preventing serious chest injuries. While air bags were responsible for the deaths of many children when they first began being used, the rate of death for children caused by air bags has sharply decreased over the past five years due to increased awareness concerning children and air bags.

Frequently asked questions about air bags:

1. I have read that air bags have killed many children. Have they been made safer for children?

Air bags are still dangerous to children if children are sitting in the front seat of a car equipped with an air bag, are unrestrained, or are in a rear facing child seat in the front seat. The message that is coming out loud and clear from the NHTSA is that ALL children are safer in the back seat properly restrained.

2. How can I protect my child from being injured by an air bag?

NHTSA has published pamphlets concerning this issue. Remember three major things: Always have children restrained properly, never put a rear facing child seat in the front seat of a car with an air bag, and remember that all children are safer in the back seat.

3. How can adults ride safely with air bags?

There should at least be 10 inches between the driver’s breastbone and the center of the steering wheel. It is also advised to tilt your seat back slightly. The passenger should be at least 10 inches from the dashboard of the car. Both should be wearing seat belts properly.

4. What are air bag on-off switches?

These switches can be installed and enable the dealer or repair shop to turn off the air bag deployment device in special circumstances if the owner or buyer of the vehicle has an authorization letter from the NHTSA. The dealer does not have to honor the authorization letter so be sure to do business with a dealer that will honor the letter.

5. What special circumstances qualify to have an air bag turned off?

You can apply to the NHTSA to have an air bag on-off switch installed for a variety of reasons. The NHTSA has published a bulletin concerning special circumstances that qualify for installation of on-off switches. Click Here

Where can I find more information about air bag safety?

The NHTSA has a comprehensive web site that is full of useful information. Visit nhtsa.dot.gov on the web.

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