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Air Bags, a few facts about the fatalities

Here is some information about some of the children who
died from being in the front passenger seat during an
accident where the front passenger air bag was deployed.

This information came from the March 1997 issue of
Automotive Engineering (SAE).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
created a Special Crash Investigation (SCI) program  in
1972, they currently do an in-depth investigation on 80-85
cases per year. The latest SCI study looked at crashes with
passenger side air bag deployment showing un-expectantly
severe injuries to children in low impact collisions. 

29 investigations of air bag associated, critical or fatal
injuries in children occurring from April 1993 to August
1996 were scrutinized by SCI. 22 of these crashes were
between March 1995 and August 1996. The injured children
ranged from 1 week to 9 years old. (Infants are considered
to be less than 1 year old) Seven of the 11 infants and 17
of the 18 children suffered fatal injuries. Note: None of
those fatally injured was between the ages of 9 months and
3 years. 

23 of the 29 cases involved crashes at 25km/h or less, 10
of these were at less than 16km/h. Of the remaining cases 4
were at less than 30km/h, one at 32km/h and one at 34km/h.
In only one case of infant fatality did the driver sustain
a moderate injury.

15 of the 17 children (greater than 1 year old) who were
OCCUPANTS, the other two wore only the lap portion of a
lap-shoulder seat belt. 

The remaining child in this group of 18 children  was a
three year old seated in a belt-positioning bolster and
restrained, to some degree by portions of the vehicle
belting. This three year old was the only child in the
group who was belted and the only child who survived,
although his injuries were severe.

CAUTION: Some gory details, reader discretion is advised:

The occupant kinematics sequence typical of the
un-restrained children was as follows. Avoidance braking
before a frontal crash brought the child close to the air
bag module flap. In this forward position, the child
restricted the normal air bag deployment path, allowing for
pressure to mount within the air bag module. Upon forceful
opening of the air bag module cover flap, the child was
accelerated vertically, often hitting his head on the
windshield, followed by a rearward acceleration that
hyperextended the neck, with fatal injuries to the cervical
spine and head. 

The other group of 11 infants, ALL in rear facing safety
seats, with 8 of them fatally injured. For this group the
typical series of events began with the rear facing child
safety seat positioned in the right front passenger
position. Proximity of the rear of the safety seat to the
air bag module resulted in rearward displacement of the
safety seat upon contact with either the air bag module
flap or the air bag module cover. Most of the safety seats
were not installed with a locking clip. The injury
mechanism involved crush, with skull fractures and brain

My $0.02
I believe that Air bags are useful devices, but I would
tend to agree with the current trend of reducing the force
of air bag deployment and assume that the passenger or
driver will have their seatbelt on during the air bag

Unfortunately, all of these measures can not make up for
people who choose to drive around un-belted or allow their
passengers (especially  children) to ride around in the
front or rear seats without a seat belt or properly mounted
child seat. Smaller children and infants should ride in the
rear seats regardless of whether there is a passenger air
bag. Installing a rear facing child seat in the  passenger
seat when there is a passenger side air bag, is unfortunate
as the people are unaware of the danger they are placing
their child under. This lack of knowledge is tough to
overcome even with all of the notification and current
awareness. In the case of a pickup truck, having a
passenger side air bag dis-able switch may be OK. Many of
these devices must be re-initiated every time the car is
started to avoid permanent dis-connection.

It always bothers me to watch a car drive by and see people
 sitting in the passenger seat un-belted while holding
their infant child. Seeing an unbelted kid bouncing around
in the front or back seat is just as disturbing. Having
kids riding around in the back of someone's pickup truck,
coming or going from some sports event also makes me a bit

Enough ranting for one day....
Scott M.