Child passenger safety: decisions about seating location, airbag exposure, and restraint use

Risk Anal. 2000 Aug;20(4):521-7. doi: 10.1111/0272-4332.204049.


The installation of passenger-side airbags in new vehicles complicates efforts to maximize child safety in motor vehicle crashes. It has been recommended by both public and private organizations that children sit in the rear seat with proper restraint to achieve maximum safety. Drivers now need to decide whether a child should be restrained, where the child should be seated (front versus rear), and whether the child should be seated in front of a passenger-side airbag. This research was undertaken to determine which choice minimizes the risk of fatality to children. Using data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System for calendar years 1989 to 1998, fatal vehicle crashes with child passengers younger than 13 years were analyzed. The effectiveness of passenger-side airbags and rear seating for children, by age category and restraint use, was estimated using the double-pair comparison method. For each of four age categories, the fatality risk of each possible combination of restraint use, seating location, and airbag presence was also estimated using logistic regression. Passenger airbags were associated with an increase in child fatality risk of 31% for restrained children, and 84% for unrestrained children. Passenger airbags did appear to offer protection to restrained 9- to 12-year-old children. Restraint use and rear seating were associated with statistically significant reductions in the odds of a child dying in a crash. In order to minimize child fatality risk, parents should seat children in the rear of the vehicle while using the proper child restraint system, especially in vehicles with passenger airbags. These findings support current public education efforts in the United States.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Age Factors
  • Air Bags*
  • Automobiles*
  • Child Welfare
  • Child*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Choice Behavior
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Decision Making*
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Logistic Models
  • Mortality
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Safety*
  • Seat Belts*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control