UW News

May 14, 2002

Seat Belts Offer More Protection Than Air Bags

Seattle — Driver air bags offer relatively little benefit in road vehicle crashes compared with seat belts, according to a study published in the May 11 issue of the British Medical Journal. The study was conducted by researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (HIPRC).

The HIPRC study identified all passenger vehicles that crashed during 1990-2000 in which the driver and/or a passenger died. The investigators analyzed 51, 031 driver-passenger pairs to estimate the association of driver air bags with driver fatality. Air bags reduced the risk of death by about 8 percent, whether or not the driver was belted.

Use of seat belts, however, offered much greater protection, reducing the risk of death by 65 percent. Using a seat belt and having an air bag reduced this risk by 68 percent.

Although there have been a few reports of women drivers who were killed by air bags, the study reported that air bags reduced the risk of death for women by 12 percent, while for men the reduction was 6 percent.

The study was conducted by Dr. Peter Cummings, principal investigator from HIPRC and a University of Washington (UW) associate professor of epidemiology; Barbara McKnight, Ph.D, a UW professor of biostatistics; Dr. Frederick Rivara, a UW professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology; and Dr. David Grossman, a UW professor of pediatrics.

[“Association of Driver Air bags With Driver Fatality: A Matched Cohort Study” can be read in its entirety on the web site of the British Medical Journal: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/7346/1119]

Founded in 1985, the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research has become one of the premier institutions researching how and why people suffer injuries and what can be done to prevent them.