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Efficacy of side airbags in reducing driver deaths in driver-side car and SUV collisions

McCartt, Anne T.; Kyrychenko, Sergey Y.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)
May 2007

Objective: To estimate the efficacy of side airbags in preventing driver deaths in passenger vehicles struck on the driver side.
Methods: Risk ratios for driver deaths per driver-side collision were computed for side airbag-equipped cars and SUVs, relative to vehicles without side airbags. Driver fatality ratios also were calculated for the same vehicles in front and rear impacts, and these were used to adjust the side crash risk ratios for differences in fatality risk unrelated to side airbags. Risk ratios were calculated separately for side airbags providing torso-only protection and side airbags with head protection; almost all head protecting airbags also had airbags protecting the torso.
Results: Car driver death risk in driver-side crashes was reduced by 37 percent for head protecting airbags and 26 percent for torso-only side airbags. Car driver death risk was reduced for older and younger drivers, males and females, and drivers of small and midsize cars, and when the striking vehicle was an SUV/pickup or a car/minivan. Death risk for drivers of SUVs was reduced by 52 percent with head protecting side airbags and by 30 percent with torso-only airbags. The effectiveness of side airbags could not be assessed for pickups and minivans due to the small number of these vehicles with airbags involved in crashes.
Conclusion: Side airbags substantially reduce the risk of car and SUV driver death in driver-side collisions. Making side airbags with head protection available to drivers and right front passengers in all passenger vehicles could reduce the number of fatalities in motor vehicle crashes in the United States by about 2,000 each year.