Be Smart About Airbags

Be Smart about Airbags

by Connie Cunningham, RN

Woman and baby with vanMotor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths for children ages 14 and under. In 1993, approximately 1,400 children ages 14 and under were killed and an estimated 280,000 were injured as passengers in motor vehicles. The correct use of child safety seats is extremely effective, reducing the risk of death by 69 percent for infants, and by 47 percent for toddlers (ages 1 to 4).


Airbags are extremely effective in saving adult lives in motor vehicle crashes when combined with lap and shoulder safety belts. Between 1986 and 1995, more than 1,100 lives were saved by airbags.

While airbags are effective in saving adult lives, research on impact of passenger side airbags on children is not yet conclusive. Airbags have seriously injured and killed children who were unrestrained or improperly restrained. In addition, there are cases of children at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital who, though properly restrained, still sustained injuries from airbags.

The number of children injured by airbags is likely to increase proportionally as the number of airbag-equipped vehicles increases to meet federal mandates.

To help prevent airbag-related injuries and deaths to children, the National SAFE KIDS Coalition and the Loma Linda SAFE KIDS Coalition recommends the following safety tips:

  • Never put an infant in the front passenger seat of a vehicle with a passenger side airbag. The back of a rear-facing infant or convertible seat rests too close to the airbag module. Due to the considerable force with which an airbag deploys, close or direct contact with the airbag or its module may cause serious or fatal injuries to the infant.
  • Properly restrain children in the back seat whenever possible. This applies both to motor vehicles with and without passenger side airbags.
  • Use a rear-facing infant or convertible seat from birth until the child is 12 months and/or 20 pounds.
  • Use a forward-facing convertible seat for a child from 12 months and/or 20 pounds to 4 years and/or 40 pounds.
  • Use a car booster seat for children who weigh between 40 and 60 pounds --usually
  • Use a lap/shoulder belt for those children who have outgrown booster seats. Ensure that the lap belt fits across the child's hips and does not ride up across the stomach. The shoulder belt should fit across the chest and not cross the face or neck.
  • If parents or caregivers must put a child in the front seat (e.g. they have more than three children or there is no back seat), they should:
  • Put the largest child in the front passenger seat
  • Ensure that the child is properly restrained
  • Move the vehicle seat as far back from the dashboard as possible.

Safety in the car

Never ride with an unrestrained child in your car. In the event of a collision, the child could be seriously injured or killed.

Obtain and correctly install a child safety seat in your motor vehicle. If you cannot afford a child safety seat, inquire about a discount, loaner or give-away program through a hospital, health department, police department or social service agency. Never use a child safety seat that has been involved in a crash. Even if it looks intact, it may be structurally damaged. Also, be sure to check the date of the child safety seat. Seats manufactured before January 1, 1981, were not required to pass a dynamic crash test and may not protect a child in a crash.

Secure your child correctly in a child safety seat or safety belt every time he or she rides in the vehicle. Infant-only seats and convertible seats can be used for children up to 20 pounds and 12 months. They should always face rearward. The convertible seat should be turned to a forward-facing position for children 20 to 40 pounds and between the ages of 1 and 4 years old. Booster seats are for children who have outgrown a convertible seat and are not big enough to correctly wear a safety belt. Booster-weight children are between 40 and 60 pounds, and are usually between four and eight-years-old. A booster seat protects a child from serious spinal cord and internal injuries caused by incorrect safety belt fit.

Make sure that the child safety seat is compatible with the automobile(s) in which it is typically used. Read your child safety seat and automobile manuals to make sure the child safety seat fits snugly in the car. When purchasing the child safety seat, ask the store manager if you can try out different models before making a purchase.

Never use pillows or cushions to boost your child. If the car is hit, the pillow may cause the child to slide under and out of the safety belt.

Never put luggage or other hard objects on the back window shelf of the car. In the event of a sudden stop, the items could fly forward and hit passengers.

It is so important to keep our children safe. Following these simple guidelines can help ensure a pleasant and safe family trip wherever your destination may be.

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