Are the majority of airbag related deaths caused by not wearing a seatbelt?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I keep reading that air bags are dangerous and are responsible for a number of
deaths, especially in children and short people. Since, of course, air bags are
supposed to be used together with seat belts, I wonder if any or all of the
reported air-bag deaths have involved failure to use seat belts. -- Marvin

RAY: Most of them have, Marvin. NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration) keeps tabs on all crash-related fatalities in the United
States. And clearly, MOST of the people who have been injured or killed by air
bags were not wearing their seat belts.

TOM: Since 1990, there have been 45 children whose deaths were attributed to
the deployment of an air bag in a car crash. Of those, only five were properly
restrained at the time. And of those five, two were so small that they should
have been in child seats (instead of in lap belts and shoulder harnesses).

RAY: For adults, the numbers, while not quite as striking, lead to the same
conclusion. There were 37 adults killed by air bags since 1990. Twenty-six of
them were either not wearing their seat belts or not wearing them properly.

TOM: But that still leaves 11 people who were properly belted, and yet were
killed by a so-called safety device. So clearly, the transition to the "second
generation" air bags that inflate with less force, and eventually, the "smart
air bags" that sense how much force is needed, should be carried out as quickly
as possible.

RAY: In the meantime, it's important to remember that air bags have saved many,
many more lives than they have taken. NHTSA estimates that more than 2,500
would have died in crashes, had it not been for their air bags.

TOM: So the best way to decrease your chances of getting killed or injured in a
car crash is still to take the following precautions.

RAY: 1) Always wear your seat belt.

TOM: 2) Always put kids in the back seat, which is inherently a safer place
than the front seat (and make sure small kids are strapped securely in a child

RAY: 3) And never drive like a knucklehead (i.e. too fast, after drinking, or
while eating, talking on the phone, applying makeup or tying your shoelaces).

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