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Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
August 10, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

County May Owe Duty to Intoxicated Driver and Deceased Passengers If Edge Dropoff Contributing Cause of Crash
Injury to Child Leaving Ice-Cream Truck Did Not Result from Dangerous Condition or Nuisance Created by California City
Michigan City Immune from Liability When No Admissible Evidence Showed Intersection Was Unsafe
Can Graduated Licensing Lessen Risks for Young Drivers?
Washington State Study Focused on Bicycle-Collision Statistics from 1988-1993
Automotive Engineering Describes Effectiveness of Restraints and Air Bags in Preventing Injuries to Children

Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

Automotive Engineering Describes Effectiveness of Restraints and Air Bags in Preventing Injuries to Children

An article in the March 1997 issue of Automotive Engineering entitled "Crash Injuries to Children" described data from recent studies of injuries sustained by children when child restraint systems (CRSs) or air bags were in use. Results suggested that while CRSs have reduced the number of injuries and fatalities, more research is warranted, particularly research on child safety in air-bag deployment situations.



A recent study analyzed data on 4,600 children from birth through age 12 who were involved in automobile crashes reported to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The data came from western New York State during 1991 and 1992. Of these children, 3,224 were not injured, and 1,376 sustained a total of 2,318 injuries.

Fourteen percent of the 4,600 crash-involved children were not restrained, 37 percent were restrained with lap belts, 18 percent were restrained with three-point belts, and 31 percent were in child restraints. The CRSs studied included toddler harness restraints, toddler booster-shield restraints, toddler booster-adult belt restraints, and rear-facing infant restraints. Of the 250 CRS injury cases, 29 involved either misuse or failure of the equipment. The majority of vehicles involved were 1980-1989 models.


Of the six possible seating positions for children in a vehicle (involving restrained or unrestrained occupants and excluding air bags), results showed that the risk of injury was highest when a child was in the right-front position. Older children (ages 6 to 12) accounted for slightly less (45 percent) than half the child occupants and sustained slightly more (58 percent) than half the injuries. Children ages 3 and 10 were also subject to "a noticeable increase in the percentage of injury cases." Whether a child was restrained or unrestrained, the face was the most common injury area, followed by the head.

For those children (221) who were in a CRS that was not misused or did not experience failure, 64 percent sustained only one injury. Of the 29 children who were injured in a CRS that was misused or failed, 48 percent sustained only one injury. In the study as a whole, the "injury rate for children protected by properly used CRSs was 16%, compared to 58% for unrestrained children and 30% for those in adult restraints."


An important conclusion from these data was that an increased measure of safety for children appeared to result from safely securing them in correctly installed and used CRSs. In addition, "the CRS misuse rate for injured children in this study is only 12%, a much lower figure than expected from other studies of misuse frequency." The article recognized that the distribution of restraint systems in the study would reflect the ages of the vehicles involved in the crashes, since newer vehicles employ more three-point protection systems.



Air bags are a significant development in crash protection, but questions have arisen about their effectiveness in protecting children. Of particular concern are injuries to children caused by deploying air bags.

Studies from the Special Crash Investigation (SCI) program have provided in-depth data to improve safety systems. The latest SCI study "looked at crashes with passenger-side air bag deployment showing unexpectedly severe injuries to children in low-impact collisions." Twenty-two of 29 investigations of critical-injury or fatal-injury crashes where a side air bag caused the injury or fatality involved infants and children from 1 week to 9 years old. Seven of 11 infants less than one year of age and 17 of 18 older children sustained fatal injuries; no children between the ages of nine months and three years were fatally injured.


Fifteen of 16 older crash-involved children who received fatal injuries were unrestrained in the right-front position. In these crashes, braking before a frontal crash caused the child's body to move forward, restricting the normal deployment of the air bag. When the air bag module cover flap forcefully opened, the child's head often struck the windshield, then whipped back, resulting in fatal spine and head injuries.

The infants, all in rear-facing safety seats (most installed without a locking clip), were typically in the right-front passenger position. The "proximity of the rear of the safety seat to the air bag module resulted in rearward displacement of the safety seat. . . . The injury mechanism involved crush, with skull fractures and brain injuries." Fatal injuries to older children involved primarily top-mounted or ledge-mounted air bags; with infants, the air bags were most often mid-mounted.


In contrast to these severe injuries sustained by children, when adults are involved in air bag-associated incidents, injuries are often minor. However, when children are injured, air-bag effectiveness appears to suffer from the no-news-is-good-news syndrome: successful air bag deployment goes unheralded, while incidents where air bags may have caused injury become public knowledge.

Most studies of air-bag injuries have evaluated driver-side air bags; "the passenger-side air bag fleet continues to be too small for significant evaluations of their lifesaving benefits." Because the data on passenger-side air bags is insufficient, their overall effectiveness cannot be evaluated. However, this information is much needed in the continued effort to provide the best possible protection for children involved in automobile collisions.

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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