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The Influence of Side Airbags on the Risk of Head and Thoracic Injury after Motor Vehicle Collisions

McGwin, Gerald Jr., MS, PhD; Metzger, Jesse MPH; Rue, Loring W. III, MD

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: March 2004 - Volume 56 - Issue 3 - p 512-517
doi: 10.1097/01.TA.0000114272.37352.21

Background Side airbags (SABs) were developed as an energy-absorbing barrier to protect specific occupant body regions in near side impact motor vehicle collisions.

Methods The National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System was used to evaluate drivers and front-seated passengers in 1998 or newer vehicles involved in near side impact collisions. Risk ratios were calculated comparing the risk of head and thoracic injury among occupants in vehicles with and without SABs adjusting for occupant, vehicle, and collision characteristics.

Results Occupants in vehicles equipped with head protection SABs had a 75% lower risk of head injury (p = 0.008) after near side collisions. With respect to thoracic injury, SABs that provide thoracic protection are associated with a 68% reduction (p = 0.01) in thoracic injury risk.

Conclusion As SAB-equipped vehicles become an increasingly larger segment of the on-road vehicle fleet, the impact of head and thoracic injury after near side impact collision is likely to be reduced.

From the Section of Trauma, Burns, and Surgical Critical Care, Division of General Surgery, Department of Surgery, School of Medicine (G.M., L.W.R.), Department of Epidemiology and International Health, School of Public Health (G.M.), and Center for Injury Sciences (G.M., J.M., L.W.R.), University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama.

Submitted for publication September 17, 2003.

Accepted for publication October 29, 2003.

Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, September 11–13, 2003, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Address for reprints: Gerald McGwin, Jr., MS, PhD, Center for Injury Sciences, 120 Kracke Building, 1922 7th Avenue South, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-0016; email:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.