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: Side airbags are reducing driver deaths," 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.