October 5, 2006
According to new research by the Institute for Highway Safety, side air bags can save the lives of thousands of American drivers a year, if every vehicle on the road had the equipment.
One-third of all deaths on the road happen in side-impact crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says it's partly because crashes between SUVs and cars are becoming more common.
"When an SUV or pick-up truck strikes a regular car, the consequences for the passengers and driver of the car are much worse than if that car were struck by another car," said Vice President of IIHS, David Zuby.
However, new research by the Institute shows side air bags can drastically improve drivers’ chances of survival.
In the report, experts compared the benefits of two kinds of side air bags, those that protect the torso and those that protect both the torso and the head.
In cars, torso airbags reduced driver deaths by 26%. Head and torso airbags were even more effective, reducing deaths by 37%.
"Air bags that offer head protection are so important; they prevent the head from going out the window and provide a cushion between your head and the front of the vehicle," said Zuby.
For SUV drivers, the benefits of side air bags were even more dramatic with torso bags reducing the risk of death by 30%. If you add head air bags, the risk of death drops by 52%.
Sounds great, but not many drivers have taken advantage of the air bags safety and neither have automakers. It's not required by law.
Right now, only four out of five new cars and SUVs offer head-protecting side air bags as a standard or even an option. However, IIHS officials say automakers have agreed to install side air bags as standard equipment by the year 2010.
The air bags usually cost between $500 and $700 as an optional feature in a vehicle.