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IIHS News | August 19, 1997Subscribe

Drivers are aware of airbag risks for children and small adults and say they would still buy vehicles with airbags

ARLINGTON, Va. — Many vehicle owners are aware of airbag-related problems, but a large majority believe airbags are effective and wouldn't want to have them deactivated, a new Institute survey indicates.

To gauge awareness of issues and attitudes about airbags, the Institute surveyed by telephone 900 drivers of vehicles with either driver and passenger airbags (549) or driver-only airbag (351). Responses were gathered August 1 and 2 in three states — Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas — from a random sample of owners of 1994-97 airbag-equipped vehicles. The sample was derived from state vehicle registration data maintained by R.L. Polk.

Seventy-nine percent of all respondents said they would want at least a driver airbag in their next car. Sixty-six percent said they would want dual airbags. When asked if they felt safer or more at risk in vehicles with airbags, 81 percent of drivers said they feel safer. Eighty-six percent said adult passengers also are safer. Responses were different when drivers were asked about child passengers. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they think children are more at risk in vehicles with airbags.

Drivers shorter than 5 feet 4 inches are more likely than taller drivers to feel at risk of airbag injuries, the survey indicates. Thirty-two percent of these drivers said they feel at risk of serious injury from a deploying airbag, compared with 13 percent of drivers taller than 5 feet 4 inches.

Fewer than one-third of all respondents (30 percent) said they are concerned enough about airbags to consider having them either permanently or temporarily deactivated or are undecided about deactivation. However, when respondents considered the estimated costs of deactivation and were informed about airbag effectiveness, only 12 percent still wanted to deactivate driver airbags and just 16 percent wanted to deactivate passenger airbags. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a rule to allow consumers to have their airbags deactivated without special permission.

When kids sit in front, it’s often because they want to be there

Drivers who transport children in vehicles with passenger airbags were asked where children usually sit in their vehicles. More than half (56 percent) said kids always ride in the back. Drivers who transport kids in the front say they do so mainly because children want to sit there. Forty-four percent of these drivers said the children sit in front because they prefer it, and 12 percent say kids sit in front because the drivers want them there. Few respondents attributed their reasons for transporting kids in front to such things as lacking room in the back (6 percent), carpooling (4 percent), separating the children (2 percent), or constant monitoring of an infant (2 percent). “

"Vehicle owners are hearing the message about airbag benefits and risks," says Susan A. Ferguson, Institute vice president. "Aware of potential airbag injury risks to children and smaller adults, surveyed owners still want airbags in their vehicles, and they know to sit children in back where they will be safer," she says. "It's interesting to note that when parents allow their children to sit in front it's usually not because the children must sit there. This finding indicates that very few people need to deactivate their airbags if the federal government allows it. Drivers — especially those of short stature — can reduce their airbag injury risk by using safety belts and sitting at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel. Passengers should use belts, too."

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