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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 1 | SPECIAL ISSUE: HEAD PROTECTION IN SIDE IMPACTS | January 6, 2001 Subscribe

Side impacts with fatal head injuries show need for side airbags

Almost 10,000 occupant deaths occur each year in side impact crashes, and head injuries cause more than half of these deaths. Head injuries are the cause of death in 51-74 percent of single-vehicle side impacts and 41-64 percent of multiple-vehicle side impacts. Thirty-eight percent of single-vehicle side impact crash deaths occur when vehicles strike trees or poles on the dead occupants' side of the vehicle. In two-vehicle side impact crashes, 38 percent of car occupant deaths occur when a pickup or sport utility vehicle strikes the car.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths in side impact crashes

Crash type Single-vehicle Multiple-vehicle Total
All 14,733 17,210 31,943
Side impact 2,957 6,700 9,657
Side impact with fatal head injury 1,500-2,200 2,700-4,300 4,200-6,500
Source: FARS (1999), NASS/CDS (1995-99)

Three fatal side impacts in which intruding vehicles hit the heads of people in struck vehicles:

This 1993 Pontiac Grand Am was struck by a 1972 GMC full-size pickup truck. The Grand Am's 29-year-old female driver died from massive injuries to her head, neck, chest, and abdomen. A 72-year-old passenger in the rear seat also was killed.

Geo Storm

This 1991 Geo Storm was struck by a 1997 Ford pickup truck. The Storm's 23-year-old male driver was killed. His injuries included chest trauma plus fatal injuries when the hood of the intruding pickup struck his head.

Plymouth Breeze

This 1997 Plymouth Breeze was struck by a 1985 Chevrolet Blazer. The Breeze's 30-year-old female driver was killed. Her injuries included head trauma when the intruding Blazer's hood struck her head.

Tests show how side airbags save heads

Many cars now come with head-protecting side airbags, and recent crash tests show just how beneficial they can be.

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