Air Bag Safety Facts

Air Bag Safety Facts

As of December 1999, more than 95 million, or 47 percent of all cars and light trucks on Americas' roads have driver-side air bags. Almost 68 million of these also have passenger-side air bags.

As of December 1998, air bags inflated in more than 3.3 million vehicles in crashes. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS) The combination lap/shoulder safety belts and air bags is the most effective safety system available for occupants of passenger vehicles, and it is 75 percent effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66 percent effective in preventing serious chest injuries. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 4,758 people are alive today because of their air bags.


  • Air bags are safety devices designed to deploy in frontal but not other types of crashes. Most air bags will deploy only in a moderate-to-severe frontal crash.
  • All new passenger cars were required to have driver and passenger air bags beginning with the 1998 model year. All new light trucks, including vans and sport utility vehicles, had the same requirement as of the 1999 model year.
  • When all passenger vehicles are equipped with air bags, it is expected that more than 3,000 lives will be saved each year. (NHTSA)
  • Driver air bags reduce deaths in frontal crashes by 26 percent for drivers wearing safety belts and 32 percent for unbelted drivers. Passenger air bags reduce deaths in frontal crashes by 14 percent for passengers wearing safety belts and 23 percent for unbelted passengers. (NHTSA)
  • Occupants who are positioned too close to an air bag when it begins to deploy are at risk of serious injury. Since 1990, 149 deaths have been attributed to air bags deploying in low-speed crashes. (NHTSA) The deaths have included 68 children between ages 1 and 11, and 18 infants. (NHTSA) Of the 68 children killed, 54 are believed to have been unbuckled. (IIHS)
  • Most air bag deaths have occurred when adults or children are not properly using safety belts or correctly placed in a child safety seat. Others are at risk due to positioning - such as drivers who are less than ten inches from the steering wheel and infants who are placed in rear-facing child safety seats near a passenger air bag. (NHTSA)


  • Rear-facing child safety seats should NEVER be placed in the front seat of vehicles with passenger air bags. The impact of a deploying air bag on a rear-facing child safety seat can result in death or serious injury to the child. (NHTSA and IIHS)
  • The safest place for children under age 13 is in the back seat, properly restrained, and away from the force of a deploying air bag. (NHTSA and IIHS)
  • If children must sit in front, make sure the vehicle seat is all the way back and that the child is securely buckled and sitting back in the seat at all times. (NHTSA and IIHS)
  • Air bags may also pose a risk to small-statured adults who feel they must sit too close to the steering wheel. Even when properly belted, drivers positioned too close to the steering wheel are at risk of serious injury from a deploying air bag. They can reduce or eliminate that risk by sitting back at least 10 inches from the steering wheel. (NHTSA and IIHS)
  • NHTSA has procedures in place to allow those who are at risk of injury from an air bag to obtain on/off switches for the air bag. Only a small percentage of people those who cannot avoid being seated too close to an air bag should obtain an on/off switch. Before obtaining an on/off switch, small-statured drivers should consider installing pedal extenders in their automobile or look into newly manufactured automobiles that have pedal adjusters included as standard equipment.


  • On September 18, 1998, NHTSA proposed new rules to improve air bag safety by requiring the introduction of advanced air bags over the next several years.
  • These advanced air bag systems will increase air bag effectiveness and safety by reducing the risk of harm to out-of-position vehicle occupants from air bag deployment.
  • The new air bag technology reduces air bag risks by adjusting or suppressing air bag deployment in instances in which an occupant would otherwise be at risk.
  • Advanced air bags will enhance occupant protection and air bag safety but will not eliminate all risks. To make air bags as safe as possible, we also must increase safety belt and child safety seat use.


  • In 1989, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety formed a "Saved By the Air Bag" group to help promote the lifesaving benefits of air bags and safety belts.
  • To date, the data base includes the stories of more than 200 people who credit an air bag with preventing serious injury or death.
  • Sample profiles can be found on the Advocates Web page at
As you browsed 'Air Bag Safety Facts' you may find interest in following articles . . .


you should think about updating your page with RECENT information i feel it will help everyone... you will get more views, and your viewers will get wholesome information that could save their lives if acted upon.

i agree, i'm scared to use this as a source seen as it's not recent and might not be relevant no longer.

Good info; instead of writing point-form facts throughout, try arranging them into topics, such as child safety, airbag risks (possible injuries), etc. I think it would make it much easier to read and browse through. I also agree with the 'recent' comment above; there have been many new developments and innovations in regards to airbag positioning in vehicles and chemicals used in deployment. Thanks!

these facts are true and they are correct and should be followed

The aphrodiquet sometimes quandbobulates the huge energy release relative to the terminal velocity - partially smashed and utterly Re-commbended by the atom.

I see you have "saved by the air bag" success stories. Why don't you have any "killed by the airbag" stories. I would like to find out what the families who have lost a loved one killed by airbags what they think of the use of airbags as a "safety device". Or if it was ok with them that they had to sacrifice a loved one so that more could be saved.

Does anyone know if airbags need to be replaced after a period of time, say 10 years? I've heard some recommendations for this policy, but I don't know a single person who have done it, or why exactly we should.

We just purchased a 1997 vehicle, so these airbags are quite old.

Within a time period of about ten years, the detonators of the airbags, as well as seatbelt pre-tensioners, should be checked. The explosive materials undergo an "aging" process that might diminish their effect in the moment of truth.

Just learned the hard way about airbag risk in older (1999) car. My daughter's horn and stereo were malfunctioning for about a week. Then one morning, she put the key in the ignition and the airbag blew up in her face. Wear and tear on the clockspring was the culprit, not the bag itself. When your steering wheel has lots of control buttons on it, that's a lot of wires chafing with each turn. Every day.
She has lots of soft tissue damage to face and chest, and corneal abrasions.
We're relieved that it didn't blow while she was driving at 55 (?) on her way to school.


Hi, I taught a disabled driver yesterday. He was born with no right arm and only a malformed left hand, without an arm on the left side.
He was incredible in what he was able to do in the vehicle on his first driving lesson - better than any driver I have seen in 33 years as a driving instructor.
In order to be able to drive, on the advice of an occupational therapist, it was necessary to move his seat forward as far as possible, and as upright as possible.
My question is, in his particular case, would it be safer to disconnect the airbag because he has to sit so close, provided he wears the seatbelt (mandatory anyway)?
Advice would be appreciated.

I wonder what the lowest speed a vehicle drives at when it crashes into another vehicle and an airbag deploys. Would appreciate if any professional can email me the answer asap.


I think airbags are great to have in cars and especially wearing a seat belt every time you go out for a drive

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