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Status Report, Vol. 40, No. 7 | August 6, 2005 Subscribe

Occupant deaths from inflating airbags have been all but eliminated

Evidence accumulates year by year that inflating frontal airbags in newer vehicles are causing few deaths and injuries. From a high of 68 deaths attributed to inflating airbags in 1995 model vehicles, only 1 such death occurred in a 2004 model (a 56-year-old woman in the front passenger seat). No deaths were caused by inflating airbags in 2002-03 models.

This information is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ongoing investigations of crashes in which airbag-related deaths are believed to have occurred.

Airbag inflation deaths in 1989-2004 models

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Fifty-eight of the 68 airbag deaths in 1995 model-year vehicles were infants and children. There have been no deaths of infants in rear-facing restraints since 1997 models and no child deaths since 2001 models.

The reduction in adult deaths can be attributed largely to airbag redesign (those in 1998 and later models inflate with less power). Other contributors include increasing belt use and education encouraging shorter drivers to sit farther from the steering wheel. Much of the fatality reduction among children has resulted from education to ensure that kids travel in a back seat, away from frontal airbags. Depowering airbags also has reduced deaths and injuries among infants and children riding in the front passenger seat.

Editor's note: A history of airbags, including inflation-related deaths and injuries, is chronicled in a new online book, Safety Sells: Market Forces and Regulation in the Development of Airbags. The author, Martin Albaum, was a longtime member of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Board of Directors (1974-1991).

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