WASHINGTON (AP) -- Terri Vaccher was driving along a California freeway in 1997 when a truck jackknifed in front of her. As her sport utility vehicle plowed into the truck, the expectant mother saw a white light and thought her life was over.
It turned out that light was an air bag deploying. One of Vaccher's legs was crushed from the impact, but her son was born healthy the day after the accident.
"I completely attribute my life and my son's life to the air bag and to the seat belt," said Vaccher, 38, a property manager from Fullerton, Calif.
Vaccher is one of the 15,000 people the government estimates have been saved by air bags since then-Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole signed an order on July 11, 1984, requiring all vehicles to have driver's side air bags or automatic seat belts by 1989 and passenger-side bags soon after.
To get the rule, which was opposed by the auto industry because it would add cost to vehicles, Dole promised it would be rescinded if states that accounted for two-thirds of the population passed laws requiring seat belt use.
Side Air Bags Could Become Mandatory
May. 10, 2004
(KSL News) -- Side airbags may become mandatory in all vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing a new set of safety standards that include side-impact bags on all cars and trucks.
It's the first major regulatory change since the early 90's when automakers starting requiring front air bags.
Experts predict side-impact bags could save as many as 1,000 lives each year, and greatly reduce head injuries in accidents involving SUV's
Side air bags cut deaths
WASHINGTON -- Side air bags that protect the head, chest and abdomen cut the risk of death in side crashes nearly in half, according to insurance industry research released today.
But when the side air bags protect only the torso, not the head, the risk of death is reduced by just 10 percent, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
More than 9,000 people are killed every year in side-impact crashes.
The institute's study, based on actual crashes in 1997-2002 cars, is the first to estimate the effectiveness of side air bags. It is particularly important now because even though side air bags are increasingly available on new cars, the types of bags offered vary widely.
Additionally, many of the side air bags offered are not standard equipment. Of 2003 model-year vehicles, 40 percent offered head-protecting side air bags, but only 24 percent were standard.
If safety devices are optional, the benefits can be diminished. Consumers will have to pay more and may have to wait longer to get a vehicle with the optional equipment.
Some vehicles have separate side air bags for the head -- referred to as either curtain or inflatable tube -- which inflate from the roof area above the door. Others have head/torso bags that inflate out of the seat or occasionally, the door.
Among the eight Chrysler-brand vehicles from DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, for example, all configurations are offered: torso/head bags, torso-only bags and head-only devices. Only the torso bag in the Chrysler Crossfire sports coupe is standard.
Insurance institute president Brian O'Neill says that while head protection has always been important, the increasing number of taller vehicles on the road heightens the risk to car occupants.
The institute recently did crash tests of small sport utility vehicles hit by barriers representing larger SUVs or pickups and found the three best-scoring vehicles had head-protecting air bags.
Automakers are working on ways to cut the risk to the occupants of smaller vehicles when they are hit by larger ones. An industry group has agreed that the most immediate way to make cars more compatible with big SUVs and pickups is with side air bags.
Fears about the risk side air bags pose to small children sitting near them when they deploy have largely abated after the industry agreed on voluntary standards that eliminate most risks.
Head air bags are not considered dangerous to kids because they're less forceful and deploy above them
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, over 107 million (52%) of the over 207 million cars and light trucks on U.S. roads have driver air bags.
More than 81 million (39.4%) of these also have passenger air bags. Another one million new vehicles are being sold each month.
By law, beginning with model year 1998, all new passenger cars were required to have driver and passenger air bags and safety belts. Light trucks were subject to the same requirement beginning as of the 1999 model year.
They save lives and reduce injury
Air bags are designed for frontal impact chashes, the kind of crashes which account for more than half of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths. They are designed to limit head and chest injuries. Air bags, combined with lap/shoulder safety belts, offer the most effective protection available today for motor vehicle passengers. An estimated 1263 lives were saved by air bags in 1999 alone according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA estimates that the combination of an air bag in addition to a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of serious head injury by 81%, compared with 60% reduction for seat belts alone.
Unfortunately there have also been some fatalities involving air bag deployment.
Most of these deaths could have been prevented if the occupants had been wearing a safety belt, and if children age 12 and under had been properly restrained in the back seat by a child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt.