Front air bags have been required in all passenger cars since 1998. Since that time, automakers have capitalized on the safety of adding side-impact air bags as a selling point. Are side impact air bags really necessary? Side impact air bags offer protection from fast-moving chunks on metal and glass which can fly freely in a side impact. The majority of side impact deaths are a result of head injuries from a driver or passenger striking their head against a window. Side air bags are designed to protect your head and/or chest in an automobile accident stemming from the side of your vehicle.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety reports side impact air bags can decrease deaths from side-impact crashes up to 45%. Luckily, side impact airbags are designed to stay inflated longer than a front air bag, adding additional protection in a roll-over accident. Side air bags, like front air bags, still provide a risk to small children or infants at high speeds. Children are most vulnerable to injuries from air bags in the neck and head area. Although many cars are now equipped with side airbags, there are no guidelines requiring them as standard equipment in new cars. Never allow children under the age of 12 to ride in the front passenger seat of the car. Air bags are designed to work with the lap and shoulder belt to protect an occupant in the event of a crash so all passengers age 13 and older should wear both a lap and shoulder belt when riding in the front seat.
Some side air bags are mounted from the roof of the vehicle, which position has not indicated a risk to children. These airbags are tested by a Technical Working Group (TWG) and will have an “M” (meets requirement) in the column labeled “SAB Out of Position Testing” in your owners’ manual and are considered safe for children. However, very few cars sold in the United States have this type of side airbag. If you cannot determine if your side air bags have been deemed safe for children, you can call your car manufacturer for information regarding the type of air bag which comes standard in your make and model of car.
For more information or for additional tips about air bag safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.