automobile air bag system

Study of 20,000 Crash Victims Shows Air Bag/Belt Combo Vital

A study of car or truck crash victims 16 and over from 1994 to 2002 in Wisconsin sheds new light on the trauma experienced by victims who were protected by seat belts alone, belts and air bags together, or air bags alone. The study of more than 20,000 crashes, published in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, the journal of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, found only 14 percent of the drivers and front seat occupants involved in those crashes were protected by the combination of air bags and seat belts, although that number rose from 1994 to 2002.

Authors Marjorie C. Wang, M.D., MPH; Frank Pintar, Ph.D.; Narayan Yoganandan, Ph.D.; and Dennis J. Maiman, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Neurosurgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, studied a group of 20,276 drivers and front seat passengers; air bag/seat belt data were available for them, and they were not ejected from the vehicle in the crash. The data showed:

  • Using a seat belt and air bag together was associated with a lower risk of a spine fracture, including more severe fractures.
  • 38 percent of these crash victims were not wearing seat belts.
  • There were 2,530 spine fractures (12.5 percent) identified among the 20,276 hospital admissions: 1,067 cervical fractures, 565 thoracic fractures, and 1,034 lumbosacral fractures. Eighty-two patients (8 percent) with a cervical fracture also had a thoracic and/or a lumbosacral fracture. Fifty-four patients with a thoracic fracture, (10 percent) also had a lumbosacral fracture. Eight percent of these were classified as severe.
  • Using an air bag alone was associated with an increased risk of a severe thoracic spine fracture.

"I commend Dr. Wang and her group for performing this extensive, labor-intensive epidemiological study of motor vehicle crash victims. This research offers an invaluable assessment of air bags and seat belts -- two safety measures that, when used together, show evidence of decreasing the risk of these traumatic and often devastating injuries," said Dr. Charles H. Tator, M.D., Ph.D., of the Division of Neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital and the University of Toronto. He wrote an accompanying editorial in the same issue.

To read the journal article, "The continued burden of spine fractures after motor vehicle crashes," visit this site.

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