Browse Publications Technical Papers 2001-01-0050

Air Bags and Infants - The Need for Placing Rear-Facing Infants in the Back Seat Brings about Accident-Causing Distractions 2001-01-0050

There is little or no doubt that air bags save lives in accidents. Passenger side air bags are generally effective safety devices; however, in special cases there are damaging side effects.
Damaging and unintended by-products of [passenger side] air bags include, but are not limited to, injuries such as abrasions, broken bones, and damaged knees. Passenger air bags are especially threatening to short people (generally under 4' 10”), to those who allow the passenger seat to be placed too close to an air bag, to various size children, and especially to rear-facing infants.
Placing the passenger seat too close to an air bag can be classified as “misuse.” Misuse also include those who may place their feet on the dash, and then either lose, or have legs severely damaged when the air bag deploys. Even though air bags were designed to take into account as much of the population as possible, anomalies do exist.
Air bags, when properly used and when they interact with more-or-less typical size people, do work. As early as 1991, the author was put in a position to have personal verification of air bag effectiveness. While having crash tests conducted by the National Testing Laboratories (NTL), in Virginia, the author was privileged to see the two now famous 1991 Chrysler Lebaron vehicles which hit each other head-on, while the two lady drivers were unscathed and sitting beside the cars talking to each other when the state trooper arrived.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words; the two Chryslers at NTL offered just such a picture. The cars were severely damaged, if one did not know what actually transpired, the only conclusion that could have been reached would clearly suggest major injuries, if not more. Air bags do work, but air bags have shortcomings, and as they are now, only deal with a limited portion of the population who fit in the “typical” part of the population bell curve.
All that notwithstanding, it is time to examine those who are particularly in harms way when riding in a car. Adult short people who face air bag danger, can, and do speak for themselves, they have a political voice, lobbies, and advocacy groups. This scenario holds true to other adults to whom an air bag is a potential for harm. The group that is most threatened by air bags, however, is a group of people who cannot yet fend for themselves, it is made up of infants who must ride rear-facing in a car.
Infants, obviously, are a special group of air bag endangered occupants whose seating situation is determined by parents or caretakers. Contrary to recommendations that infants be placed in the rear seat, many parents and caretakers feel that for emotional, physical, health, or most importantly for less distraction, their infant should be in the front seat by them.
Our mission in this paper is to offer some insight and visibility to the problems rear-facing infants face in travel.


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