The field performance of frontal air bags: a review of the literature

Traffic Inj Prev. 2005 Mar;6(1):1-23. doi: 10.1080/15389580590903131.


This article presents a broad review of the literature on frontal air bag field performance, starting with the initial government and industry projections of effectiveness and concluding with the most recent assessments of depowered systems. This review includes as many relevant metrics as practicable, interprets the findings, and provides references so the interested reader can further evaluate the limitations, confounders, and utility of each metric. The evaluations presented here range from the very specific (individual case studies) to the general (statistical analyses of large databases). The metrics used to evaluate air bag performance include fatality reduction or increase; serious, moderate, and minor injury reduction or increase; harm reduction or increase; and cost analyses, including insurance costs and the cost of life years saved for various air bag systems and design philosophies. The review begins with the benefits of air bags. Fatality and injury reductions attributable to the air bag are presented. Next, the negative consequences of air bag deployment are described. Injuries to adults and children and the current trends in air bag injury rates are discussed, as are the few documented instances of inadvertent deployments or non-deployment in severe crashes. In the third section, an attempt is made to quantify the influence of the many confounding factors that affect air bag performance. The negative and positive characteristics of air bags are then put into perspective within the context of societal costs and benefits. Finally, some special topics, including risk homeostasis and the performance of face bags, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / mortality
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Air Bags / adverse effects
  • Air Bags / economics
  • Air Bags / statistics & numerical data*
  • Automobile Driving
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Humans
  • Risk-Taking
  • Seat Belts
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control