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Status Report, Vol. 47, No. 10 | December 20, 2012 Subscribe

Combination side airbags reduce death and injury risk

Side airbags that protect the head and torso reduce the likelihood of death and upper body injuries to passenger vehicle drivers in near-side crashes by 61 percent compared with no side airbags. This is the main finding of a new study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

The Victoria, Australia, study reinforces prior research on the effectiveness of side airbags that protect people's heads and torsos in crashes. A 2006 IIHS study found that side airbags with head protection reduce a car driver's risk of death in a near-side crash by an estimated 37 percent and an SUV driver's risk by 52 percent (see "Surviving side crashes," Oct. 7, 2006).

Monash University researchers matched police reports of 2001-09 driver-side crashes in Victoria, Australia, with insurance injury claims data to look specifically at injuries to body regions directly relevant to side airbags.

The researchers found a 51 percent reduction in the odds of death and injury to all body regions and a 53 percent reduction in death and injury risk to the head, neck and face in vehicles equipped with head-and-torso-protecting side airbags. In comparison, researchers found that side airbags designed to protect only a person's torso didn't provide any statistically significant injury reductions. This finding differs from research by IIHS showing that torso-only side airbags reduce fatality risk by 26 percent for car drivers and 30 percent for SUV drivers.

Under the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), vehicles must have head-protecting side airbags for the driver and front passenger in order to earn the maximum 5-star safety rating. Starting in 2014, second-row seats must have side airbags, too.

The U.S. government doesn't mandate side airbags specifically but does require a high level of head and torso protection for all occupants in side crashes. In IIHS crash tests assessing protection in a side impact, all of the vehicles that perform well are equipped with head-protecting side airbags.

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