Context: Virtually all new cars now are equipped with passenger air bags. Determining whether passenger air bags are saving lives is important, particularly because passenger air bags have caused some deaths among children and adults.
Objective: To assess the effectiveness of passenger air bags in reducing the risk of death in frontal crashes for right front passengers.
Design: Air bags are designed to protect occupants in frontal crashes. Using Fatality Analysis Reporting System data for calendar years 1992 through 1995, the relative frequency of right front passenger deaths in frontal vs nonfrontal fatal crashes was compared for cars with dual air bags and for cars with driver-only air bags.
Main outcome measures: Odds of right front passengers dying in frontal compared with nonfrontal fatal crashes were computed for 1992 through 1995 model year cars with dual air bags and for cars with driver-only air bags. Percentage reductions in right front passenger deaths in dual air bag vehicles were estimated.
Results: Right front passenger fatalities were 18% lower than expected in frontal crashes of cars with dual air bags and 11% lower in all crashes. An estimated 73 fewer than expected right front passengers died in 1992 through 1995 model cars with dual air bags during 1992 through 1995. The risk of frontal crash death for right front passengers in cars with dual air bags was reduced 14% among those reported to be using belts and 23% among belt nonusers. Children younger than 10 years in cars with dual air bags had a 34% increased risk of dying in frontal crashes.
Conclusions: Passenger air bags were associated with substantial reductions in fatalities among right front passengers in frontal crashes. However, more children are being killed than are being saved by air bags. Immediate countermeasures to reduce the dangers of air bags to children and adults are suggested.