Bet Your Life on an Air Bag

By Insurance.com Posted : 03/07/2007

Do air bags save lives in vehicular accidents?

You can bet your life on it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes statistics showing the life-saving value of vehicle passenger restraint systems - seat belts, air bags and child restraints.

The NHTSA began tracking the life-saving numbers in 1975, and here’s a rundown:


From 1975 to 1994, air bags saved 730 lives;

  • 536 lives saved in 1995;
  • 783 in 1996;
  • 973 in 1997;
  • 1,208 in 1998;
  • 1,49 in 1991;
  • 1,716 in 2000;
  • 1,978 in 2001; and
  • 2,248 lives were saved in 2002 (the most recent year reported).

“These statistics clearly show that air bags, used in tandem with seat belts, save lives, so buckle up and drive carefully,” according to Liz Neblett, spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in Washington, D.C.

The number of lives saved in vehicular accidents because of air bag use increases from year to year because “there are more and more air bags on the road every year”, Neblett adds.

Neblett pointed out that since 1997, the NHTSA mandated that, beginning with model year 1998, all newly-made U.S. passenger automobiles must have driver and front passenger seat air bags. Similar edicts were imposed on light trucks and vans starting with model years 1999.

An insurance information organization spokesman, Tully Lehman, brought up statistics he got from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS found that in frontal crashes, air bags result in fewer deaths, about 14% for drivers and approximately 11% for passengers. Those are telling statistics. “Air bags are part of a system, and indeed they are life savers when used in conjunction with seat belts,” asserts Lehman, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

An insurance trade group executive touts new air bag technology. “We’re finding that on some of the newer cars, there are air bags that essentially are deployed in stages, depending on the speed of the car at impact,” says Dan Kummer, director of auto insurance for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, in Des Plaines, Ill.

Depending on the impact, Kummer continued, “the air bags will come out slower in a slow-speed accident or faster if you’re driving faster. That approach could ease the impact of the air bag hitting the body of the driver or passenger. It’s the underbelly of life-saving air bags, that in certain circumstances the impact has been known to injure a driver or passenger, especially children or small adults.”

Please note that this description/explanation is intended only as a guideline.

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