Background: Some children have been killed by air bags, leading to advice that young children should not sit in front of an active air bag.
Methods: We conducted a case-control study to estimate the association of passenger air bag presence with death, according to passenger age and seat belt use. We used data from crashes on U.S. public roads in 1992 through 1998. Cases (N = 20,987) were front seat passengers who died, and controls (N = 69,277) were a sample of survivors.
Results: Among restrained passengers, the adjusted relative risk of death for those with a passenger air bag was 0.79 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.66-0.94); for children 12 years or younger, the adjusted relative risk was 1.04 (0.65-1.67) [corrected], and for adults 20 years or older it was 0.75 (0.62-0.91) [corrected]. Among unrestrained passengers, the adjusted relative risk was 1.03 (CI = 0.81-1.30); for children 12 years or younger the adjusted relative risk was 1.37 (0.84-2.21) [corrected], and for adults 20 years or older it was 0.96 (0.75-1.24).
Conclusions: Passenger air bags may be a hazard to unrestrained children and of little benefit to unrestrained adults. Our results support the advice that children younger than 13 years should not sit in front of an active air bag.