Did you know that the air bag that saves your life could also kill you or your child? Air bags are dangerous to children age 12 and under because the bag inflates at speeds up to 200mph and that blast of energy can severely injure or kill passengers who are too close to the air bag. Whenever possible, children should ride in the center of back seat, properly restrained. Adults under 90 pounds should also not sit in front of an air bag. Therefore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges parents to remember:
- The back seat is the safest place for children of any age to ride.
- Never put an infant (less than one year old) in the front seat of a car with a passenger-side air bag.
- Infant must always ride facing the rear of the car.
- Make sure everyone is buckled up. Unbuckled occupants can be hurt or killed by an air bag.
- If your vehicle has a passenger side air bag, do not use a rear-facing restraint in the front seat. The only exception is if there is no back seat and there is a switch to deactivate the passenger bag. If there is no switch, the child should never ride in that vehicle.
The Safe America Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to injury prevention and the practice of good safety habits through the distribution of safety products and innovative educational programs. For more information call: 770-218-0071 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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On December 2, 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) released the October recalls. Included in the list of vehicle
recalls are two that may be of special interest to emergency services
personnel. The recall affects Audi vehicles from 1993-1997.
Audi models affected are (1989-1993): Audi 80, Audi 100, Audi 200, Audi
V8, Audi Coupe, and Audi S4. In this particular recall, the discharge
of static electricity under low humidity conditions can activate the
driver side air bag when a person enters or exits the vehicle and forms
an electrical current by touching certain areas of the steering wheel.
This could be particularly dangerous for emergency workers at a crash
scene or when removing an abandoned vehicle. There is no warning as to
when this air bag activation may occur.
It is recommended that rescue personnel use caution when involved in
situations where late model Audi vehicles are involved.
Also, over the past several months, a number of bulletins and stories
have been circulating about side impact air bag deployments resulting
from the use of a slim jim. The story claims that an officer, using a
slim jim, was injured or killed while attempting to open a locked
driver's door of a vehicle equipped with side impact air bags. NHTSA
has been unable to verify that any such incidents have occurred.
Additionally, NHTSA contacted manufacturers of vehicles equipped with
side impact air bags who categorically state that it is impossible to
deploy the side impact air bags by using a slim jim from the outside of
Please feel free to post or distribute this memo to whomever you think
will benefit from this information. For further imformation, refer to
the Emergency Rescue Guidelines for Air Bag Equipped Vehicles available
on the NHTSA Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov
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From the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration... Air Bag Alert
Health Care Professionals' Advice to
Air bags are standard equipment in most new cars and are intended
to work as restraint system supplements to lap/shoulder belts for
front-seat occupants in frontal collisions. Air bags are stowed in
two places: the steering-wheel hub, on the driver's side; and under
the instrument-panel covering on the passenger's side. The air bag
is designed to deploy in crashes that occur at a specific speed; in
most vehicles this ranges from 8 to 14 mph.
To do its job the air bag must open and fill rapidly before the
occupant has entered the air bag's deployment zone. The air bag
system must sense the crash, initiate deployment, and fill the bag,
all in less than a tenth of a second. With this rapid inflation the
velocity of the bag may reach 200 mph. The risk of injury or death
from an opening air bag occurs if an occupant is unbelted and thrown
out of position (ie, into the deployment zone) during precrash
braking, placing the occupant too close to the air bag before it
Air bags have been proved effective in doing the job for which
they were designed. However, the air bag that saves an adult's life
can kill a child. An infant in a rear-facing safety seat should never
be placed in the front seat of a motor vehicle with a passenger-side
air bag, where he or she would be in the bag's deployment zone. Even
children in front-facing safety seats are better off in the back seat
of the vehicle; car seats in the front typically position the child
several inches closer to the dashboard and therefore much closer to
the air bag when it opens. Any unbelted occupant (or one wearing a
lap belt alone) is at serious of risk of fatal injury because he or
she may be thrown too close to the air bag and hit by the rapidly
Many parents are reluctant to place an infant in a rear-facing
child seat in the back seat of a vehicle, especially if he or she is
the only adult in the car. A healthy baby (determined medically to
be able to tolerate riding in a semireclined, rear-facing child seat)
should be safe riding unobserved in the back seat even without
The important advice to remember is that the child must be secured
correctly in the child seat and that the child seat must be secured
correctly and fit snugly in the vehicle. The semireclined angle is
essential to maintain an open airway for the child. A child seat
that installs in a position that is too upright can be angled
properly with a firmly rolled sheet or towel under the foot of the
It may be reassuring to parents to compare the safety of the baby
in a rear-facing child seat in the vehicle's back seat with that of a
child placed correctly in a crib for naptime or overnight sleep.
Parents do not stay in the room next to the crib to observe their
A driver with no other adult in the car should use common sense
when traveling with children. The driver should always allow plenty
of time to pull off the road if concern about the baby or the need to
tend to the child arises. In busy traffic or on the highway, the
driver should position the vehicle so that a reasonably quick stop
can be made, if needed, to check on the baby. At short intervals,
when traffic allows, the driver can quickly glance back to check an
the child without losing control of the vehicle.
Special mirror products, designed to help a driver keep an eye on
a child riding in the back seat, are commercially available. Some
are secured by suction cups, others by Velcro straps or pins.
However, such mirrors could jar loose in a crash and cause injury.
Drivers who choose to use these mirrors should be cautioned to not
become too distracted by watching the baby too frequently.
Air bags deploy and deflate instantly (about one tenth of a
second) This means that the air bag cannot smother the child. It is
the force of the deployment that can be deadly to a child positioned
too close to the deploying air bag.
Air Bag Alert discharge instructions
- If your car or truck has air bags on both the driver and
- All children ride safer in the back seat.
- Always put a baby under age 1 in a rear-facing car seat in the
- Make sure everyone buckles up.
- Anyone in the front seat must wear BOTH the shoulder and lap
portions of the seat belt.
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Martinez Parting Shot: Side Air Bags May Kill, Seriously Injure Children
With just two days left on the job, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D., took one of the most dramatic-and potentially conflicting-actions of his tenure; He issued a consumer advisory warning that side air bags could seriously injure or kill young children. While the agency reports only three minor injuries to children from side air bags, it fears more could occur.
Children who are next to a side air bag may be injured, particularly if the child's head, neck or chest is in close proximity to the air bag when it deploys. Due to variations in side air bag design and performance, Martinez is advising vehicle manufacturers to notify consumers whether it is safe for children to sit next to side air bags.
Children under age 12 are advised to sit in the rear seat and use age-appropriate restraints. NHTSA now is asking manufactures of vehicles with rear side air bags to ship vehicles to dealers with the systems deactivated. If the side air bags pose no significant threat to children, they can be activated.
Consumers who already own vehicles with rear side air bags can have them deactivated. NHTSA is also requesting that manufactures alert consumers that they can have air bags deactivated by dealers if they transport children in rear outboard seats.
Advising the Manufacturers
Martinez wrote to Koichi Ameniya, president and chairman of American Honda Motor Co., to express his concerns about side air bags. Similar letters were sent to the other vehicle manufacturers.
Side impact collisions result in 7,500 deaths and 800,000 injuries each year. In the last 10 years, NHTSA has introduced a side-impact performance standard, developed a side-impact anthropomorphic test dummy and the thoracic trauma index to better measure injury risks, and added tests that measure side-impact crash performance, wrote Martinez.
For better side-crash protection, manufacturers have strengthened seats, pillars, and roof rails; added cross members; designed more compliant and energy-absorbing vehicle door interiors; and introduced side-impact air bags. NHTSA acknowledges that the industry has strived to improve safety, but the agency is concerned about children who are exposed to side-impact air bag deployments, especially children who may be out of position.
Data on out-of-position children who encounter side-impact air bag deployments are limited, "It is not clear whether properly seated and restrained children incur any benefit from the deployment of side-impact air bags," Martinez wrote.
Initial Danger Signs
A study by NHTSA and Transport Canada showed that out-of-position 3- and 6-year-old dummies indicated that most of the side air bag designs failed at least part of the frontal crash test. In April 1999, NHTSA held a public meeting to discuss side-impact air bags. In July 1999, additional data supported the earlier findings.
Over the next year, NHTSA will test out-of-position and properly restrained dummies to compare overall side-impact performance of vehicles with and without side air bags. The tests are expected to improve the understanding of side-impact air bag performance. NHTSA has asked manufacturers to provide the agency with any data from their testing programs that are related to side air bags.
There are now no federal standards to test side air bag performance for out-of-position children, but NHTSA hopes to develop a procedure by the end of 1999. Because these efforts are not complete, the agency believes the potential risk to children warrants additional precautions, according to Martinez.
"Because of ongoing concern in this area, the agency believes this action is an appropriate step until widely accepted test procedures for assessing out-of-position risks are available, side air bags are tested to these procedures, and appropriate changes, if necessary, are made to side air bag designs to ameliorate such risks," Martinez said.
Reactions to Martinez's last major pronouncement ranged from cautious endorsement to confusion and frustration. While labeled a consumer advisory, the warning is more of a recommendation to manufacturers to ship cars with rear side air bags deactivated and then dealers brief consumers on the issue, after which the consumer is to decide whether to activate the system. Dealers are also supposed to contact owners of vehicles already equipped with side air bags, explain the situation, and let them decide whether to have the systems deactivated. Predictions are that different manufacturers are going to be conveying different opinions-to the bewilderment of consumers.
Tad Lee, communications director for the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, summed up the feelings of many concerned traffic safety authorities. "It seems like the only safe place left for a young child in a car with side air bags is in the middle of the back seat," he told the Report. "That is not an option for many parents with more than one child or with a car pool. Parents of young children need to educate themselves on the pros and cons of having a car with side air bags. Auto dealers or manufacturers need to have that information readily available.
If you are looking for looking to buy a vehicle and would like to know if a specific car has front or rear side air bags, please either contact the dealer or e-mail the Injury Prevention Educator
This document was last updated on November 3, 1999.
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NHTSA Announces Rule on Air Bag On-Off Switches
On November 18, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
announced the final rule to preserve the benefits of air bags and
minimize the risk they pose to certain groups of people, such as
young children and others.
According to the NHTSA:
1) Switches will be available beginning January 19, 1998
2) Only people fitting into one of four risk profiles, or who
transport someone in one of the profile groups, may obtain switches.
3) The four risk profiles are:
- Those who cannot avoid placing rear-facing infant seats in
the front passenger seat
- Those who have a medical condition that places them at
- Those who cannot adjust their driver's position to keep
back 10 inches from the steering wheel
- Those who cannot avoid situations -- such as a car pool --
that require a child 12 or under to ride in the front seat
4) People who do not fit into the risk profiles do not need a
5) Drivers and their passengers must always wear their seat belts.
They should sit with a 10-inch clearance between the air bag cover
and the center of their breastbone.
6) Infants in rear-facing child seats should never be placed in
front of active passenger-side air bags. The safest place in
a vehicle for infants and children age 12 and under is the back
seat, whether the vehicle has air bags or not. Adults are
responsible for making sure that children are properly buckled
and ride in safety or booster seats that are appropriate for
their weight and height.
7) Advanced air bags are the ultimate solution to eliminate
risk from air bag systems. NHTSA will begin rule making in
the first half of 1998 that will lead to these advanced air
Visit the NHTSA web site at
http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click
on "Air Bags - Information about air bags" or call 1-800-424-9393
to learn more.
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Ophthalmologist Warns: Air Bags May Cause Eye Injuries
Air bags may cause serious eye injuries to children, according to a new study in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of
Ophthalmology. Researchers advise that infants and children should travel in the rear seat of vehicles to minimize their risk of eye injury.
Ophthalmologist Gregg Lueder, M.D., reviewed the medical records of seven children who were
injured by air bags and concluded that serious ocular injuries may result, although most injuries heal
without detrimental long-term effects.
However, there can be serious consequences if the child is too close to the air bag when it deploys. The mortality rate increases for infants who are in rear-facing car seats in the front passenger seat be- cause this places the infant's head too near the
deploying air bag, Lueder noted. "In older children who are unbelted or who use lap-only seat belts, the head may move forward during impact, resulting in head and neck injuries," he added.
The most serious injuries were cataracts and glaucoma. Other injuries were blood in the front chamber of the eye, alkali bum, temporary loss of consciousness and visual acuity, eyelid laceration, black eye, swelling and hemorrhaging of the blood vessels under the outer surface of the eyeball,
corneal lesions and abrasions, and iris inflammation.
For more information on Air Bag-Associated Ocular Trauma in Children, published in the August issue of
Ophthalmology, visit the academy's website, www.eyenet.org.
This document was last updated on February 25, 2001.
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