Study Finds that Older Airbags Could Increase Risk of Injury
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Children wearing safety belts who are exposed to older airbags in frontal crashes face a higher risk of serious injury compared with those in vehicles with newer versions of the safety devices, a study released on April 4 found, according to the Associated Press.
The study, published in the April edition of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, reports that children wearing seatbelts in the right front seat had a 14.9 percent risk of serious injury when an older air bag was deployed in a crash. Children in a similar situation exposed to second-generation airbags, or those built after federal regulators amended airbag rules in 1997, had a 9.9 percent risk of serious injury.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends all children ages 12 and under be placed in rear seats. But researchers note many children continue to sit in the right front seat of passenger vehicles. The report evaluated first-generation air bags from 1994-1997-model years while the second-generation devices reviewed were from 1998-2001-model years.
Airbags have been credited with saving more than 15,000 lives since the Department of Transportation required all vehicles to have driver's side airbags or automatic seatbelts by 1989 and passenger-side bags soon after. Deaths peaked in 1997, when 53 people, including 31 children, were killed. The amended regulations led to the redesign of frontal airbags to reduce the force.
From April 1993 through July 2003, the government estimates 134 children were killed and 30 were seriously injured in crashes where they were not placed in rear-facing child safety seats and the airbag deployed. In most of the fatalities, seatbelts were either not worn or misused.
Researchers said most airbag studies have focused on the reduction of fatality risks for children but have not reviewed how the new designs affected serious injuries.
The study, based on insurance claims from State Farm Insurance Co., involved 1,781 children and teenagers between the ages of 3 and 15 who had been wearing seatbelts in the right front seat. The youngsters were exposed to deployed air bags in frontal crashes between December 1998 and November 2002.