October 6, 2006

Side airbags substantially reduce death risk in cars and SUVs

Arlington, Virginia – Side airbags that protect people’s heads are reducing driver deaths in cars struck on the driver’s side by an estimated 37 per cent, according to a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Airbags that protect only the chest and abdomen, but not the head, are reducing deaths by 26 per cent.

“We found lower fatality risks across the board – among older and younger drivers, male and female drivers, and drivers of both small cars and larger passenger vehicles,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS vice-president for research.

Head-protecting side airbags reduce driver fatality risk when cars are struck by SUVs and pickups, not just by other cars. The overall research findings echo those of a 2003 IIHS study of side airbag effectiveness in cars, but data wasn’t sufficient then to compute fatality risk reductions for drivers of SUVs. Fatality risk in SUVs went down 52 per cent with head-protecting side airbags, and 30 per cent with airbags that protect the chest and abdomen but not the head.

The IIHS says that about four of every five new car and SUV models already have standard or optional side airbags that include head protection, a huge increase since side airbags were introduced in a few models in the mid-1990s. Pickup trucks aren’t matching the pattern of being rapidly equipped with side airbags: head-protecting ones are standard in only one 2006 model pickup, and fewer than half of all pickups have no side airbags at all, standard or optional. For a list of side airbag availability in 1996-2006 models, click here.

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