Parents Beware: Airbags Do Not Protect Children in Car Crashes | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Even with the still-unfolding recall of poorly designed — and, occasionally fatal — Takata airbags, there is no denying that requiring front airbags in all passenger vehicles sold in the United States has saved lives and prevented countless disabling injuries. As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports,


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that frontal airbags saved the lives of 2,790 occupants age 13 and older in 2017. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for frontal airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags.


Statistically speaking a driver whose airbag deploys properly is 30 percent more likely to survive a head-on collision. Passengers who are 13 years old or older have a 27 percent better chance of surviving.


I added the bolding. Airbags in cars, SUVs. minivans and pickup trucks are not designed or positioned to protect young children in traffic accidents. This is why Virginia, North Carolina and every other state enforces laws that mandate use of safety seats and booster seats for all passengers who, depending on the state, are

  • Younger than 8 years old,
  • Shorter than 4 feet 9 inches, or
  • Under 90 pounds.

Rear-facing safety seats placed in the back seat are recommended for newborns and babies up to 12 months. Then, regularly replacing safety seats as children grow is important to ensure maximum protection. NHTSA estimates that, regardless of any other factor, children younger than 12 have a 29 percent better chance of surviving a car crash if they are in the back seat.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains in detail what can happen to young children hit with a vehicle airbag that deploys explosively at 140 mph and fully inflate within 1/25th of a second. Head and neck injuries are common, as are burns, bruised organs and broken bones.

Parents can protect their children by having them ride in the back seat, positioning safety and booster seats in the center of the back seat away from doors with side-impact airbags, and disabling passenger airbags in vehicles where young children must ride in the front seat. And, of course, always buckling in the children.