We bought a car with two air bags, because we thought it would be safer. Now we have heard that air bags can kill children. Should we have the passenger side air bag taken out?
Air bags have already saved at least 900 lives, so we do not think you should have yours removed. Air bags combined with correctly used safety belts are the best available protection for adults during deadly frontal crashes. We suspect that adults ride in your front passenger seat. They will benefit from the air bag, if the car is involved in a crash.
On the other hand, we are glad that you have raised a question about transporting children in a car equipped with a passenger-side air bag. Precautions are needed. Several children who were not properly seated and belted have been killed, some even during low-speed events, when an air bag deployed. It appears they were hurt by the air bags because they were too close.
Here are the Public Health Service rules for carrying children in cars with air bags: All infants and children should be properly restrained in child safety seats or lap and shoulder belts when riding in a motor vehicle. Infants riding in rear-facing child safety seats should never be placed in the front seat of a car or truck with a passenger-side air bag. (Infants should ride in a rear-facing safety seat until they weigh 20 pounds and are about 1 year old). Children should ride in a car's rear seat. (This is true whether or not the car has air bags, but it is even more important if it does). If a vehicle does not have a rear seat, children riding in the front seat should be positioned as far back as possible from the dashboard to maximize the distance from the air bag.
The bottom line is that any child who rides unrestrained or incorrectly restrained in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side air bag may be badly injured or even killed if the air bag deploys. Remember that an unrestrained child is at risk of serious injury during a crash even if there is no air bag. Children should never ride unrestrained, but as many as one-third still do!
If you have any additional questions about safely transporting your child in an automobile, you can call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Auto Safety Hotline. The number is (800) 424-9393.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.
Pub Date: 4/16/96