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Side Air Bags Boost SUV Crash Survivability, Researchers Find

October 05, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Driver deaths in side-impact collisions dropped by more than half in sport utility vehicles equipped with head-protecting side air bags, insurance industry research shows.

Side air bags offering head protection could save the lives of about 2,000 drivers a year if every vehicle on the road had the equipment, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated in a study to be released today.

About 4 of 5 new passenger cars and sport utility vehicles have head-protecting side air bags as standard or optional equipment.

Although the benefits for SUVs with head-protecting air bags were higher, the study also found that the risk of death dropped 30% in side collisions involving SUVs with side air bags that offer protection only to the chest and abdomen.

In passenger cars struck on the driver's side, the risk of a driver being killed declined 37% in models with side air bags offering head protection and 26% in those with side air bags protecting the chest and abdomen.

"We found lower fatality risks across the board -- among older and younger drivers, male and female drivers, and drivers of both small cars and larger passenger vehicles," said Anne McCartt, the institute's vice president and an author of the study, which was drawn from federal crash data.

Side air bags, introduced on vehicles in the mid-1990s, are credited with helping motorists escape serious injuries and death when their vehicles are struck along the doors.

In 2004 the government estimated that 9,270 people were killed in side crashes, accounting for nearly 30% of traffic deaths.

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