Airbags, Children and Small Adults: What to Do to Reduce Risks

Although air bags have saved an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 lives since 1987, they may be dangerous for children and smaller adults. Air bags have been blamed in the deaths of 49 people, 30 of them children.

The AAA Traffic Safety Department suggests some things that you can do to reduce the danger air bags may pose to children and smaller (5’ 5” and shorter) or pregnant adults.

Children

  • The safest place for children is in the back seat. They must always be properly belted or secured properly in a safety seat.
  • Children under 12 and children in rearward-facing infant seats should not ride in passenger seats equipped with air bags.
  • Child safety seats always must be properly secured according to the manufacturer’s instructions and with no slack.
  • Safety belts must be worn across the chest and lap, with no slack.
  • Booster seats should be used to ensure proper safety belt fit for small children.

Adults

  • Pregnant women and elderly or frail passengers should consider sitting in the back seat.
  • Drivers with air bags should be at least 12 inches from the steering wheel. Shorter drivers can consider pedal extenders.
  • Drivers should use the “3 and 9” steering position for hands to prevent injury to hands.
  • Occupants must be properly belted. Air bags are supplemental to the safety belt system.
  • Pregnant women should wear the lap portion of the safety belt as low as possible under the abdomen. The steering wheel should be tilted up away from the fetus, not down toward it.

This article was first published in January 1998. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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