Study Shows Air Bags Save Lives
The first Federal study of automobile air bags in actual traffic accidents has found that they are far more effective than seat belts alone, reducing the risk of death in head on collisions by 26 percent and in all serious accidents by 13 percent.
In making the study public yesterday, the Department of Transportation cautioned that air bags worked this well only when occupants were also wearing a properly buckled seat belt over both lap and shoulder; other studies have found that without a belt, air bags are of slight benefit. And there are lingering questions, not addressed in the new study, over the risk of injury from the bags themselves, which use hot gases to timberland outlet inflate at high impact.
But in contrast to earlier findings, which did not involve actual road conditions, the study demonstrated that air bags protected occupants in ways that seat belts alone did not: by spreading out the violent impact of a crash and keeping even a belted occupant from smashing against the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. Life Saving Value
More than six million cars, or about 4 percent of those on the road today, have air bags, the vast majority on the driver’s side only. Federal officials estimate that air bags have inflated in more than 57,000 accidents since they were introduced six years ago, saving about 300 lives.
“We have felt all along that the most effective system was an air bag with a seat belt, and this report appears to confirm that,” said Barry Felrice, an associate administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration, the agency that performed the study of thousands of fatal accidents.
The report comes amid the most sweeping safety overhaul of the nation’s car fleet since the introduction of the seat belt nearly three decades ago. For the first time, most new cars sold in the United States this year have an air bag on the driver’s side. And within six years, Federal law will require that every new car, light truck and van have air bags for both the driver and front seat passenger. How System Works
An air bag system consists of sensors, an inflator and a nylon bag. When the sensor detects a collision, it activates the inflator, which contains a highly combustible chemical, sodium azide, which is turned into nitrogen gas, which fills the bag.
But even as air bags proliferate, some questions timberland outlet about their safety and reliability linger. Federal officials have received hundreds of complaints from people who say they were burned or otherwise injured when an air bag inflated. And some safety experts fear that passenger side air bags could injure or even kill children who are not properly restrained in an accident. But Federal officials and other safety experts say that those risks are minor compared with the life saving benefits of the bags.
The heavy marketing of new cars with air bags built around reports of motorists’ miraculously escaping death may also be misfiring in part. A recent survey financed by automobile makers found that most people do not understand how and when an air bag works.
Hoopla over the air bag has made many people forget that they were introduced as a supplement rather than replacements for the seat belt, which provides far greater pro timberland outlet tection than an air bag on its own.
“People read about these accidents and they think that an air bag is going to make them immortal,” said Randy Edwards, a regulatory affairs manager for the Chrysler Corporation. “But for every one of these anecdotal stories there is another one where the guy didn’t survive.”
Air bags are designed to cushion the impact of a front end crash.
“It is not unusual for even a belted occupant to strike his head on the steering wheel or front window, said Donald Bischoff, the associate adminstrator for plans and policy at the Federal traffic safety agency, “and the air bag will protect against that.” Life Is Saved
Thomas Tony, an insurance salesmen in West Pittsburg, Pa., counts himself among people whose lives have been saved by air bags. Last January, Mr. Tony was driving his 1991 Toyota Celica home at about 50 miles an hour when a car traveling in the opposite direction suddenly pulled out into his lane. Mr Tony said he slammed on the brakes, but the cars smashed into each other, and his car was destroyed.
“I could actually feel my nose touching the steering wheel when there was a sudden flash of white that exploded me backward,” he said. “I just sat there for a while shaking the cobwebs out.”
The traffic safety agency’s report looked at death and injury patterns in thousands of car crashes to determine the impact of a Federal law that required auto makers to gradually introduce air bags or automatic seat belts starting in 1987.
An automatic seat belt can come in several designs. Some have a shoulder belt that au timberland outlet tomatically closes over the occupant; others have combination lap and shoulder belts that come out of a car’s door. One problem, however, is that some of these systems are cumbersome and the vehicle’s occupants can disengage them.