Air Bags and Seat Belts

Frontal air bags have saved thousands of lives since they were mandated in the late 1990s. However, they are supplemental safety devices designed to be used with seat belts.

NHTSA estimates that as of 2013, 39,886 lives have been saved by frontal airbags. 1 In frontal crashes, frontal airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 percent and fatalities of front-seat passengers age 13 and older by 30 percent. The fatality reduction in frontal crashes is larger for belted drivers (52 percent) compared to unbelted drivers (21 percent). NHTSA estimates that the combination of an airbag plus a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of death by 51 percent, compared with a 45 percent reduction for belts alone in frontal crashes.

However, air bags pose a threat to young children riding in the front seat of a car. Studies have found that children are up to 29 percent safer in the back seat, regardless of whether the car has a passenger-side air bag. Children under age 13 should always ride in the back seat.

Vehicles with air bag ON-OFF switches should be checked before every trip to ensure the switch is in the correct position.

Safety Tips for Seat Belts and Air Bags

  • The driver should sit back at least 10 inches from the steering wheel.
  • The front seat passenger should sit with the seat positioned as far back as it will go.
  • All occupants should always wear seat belts properly.
  • Pregnant occupants should place the lap belt low on the abdomen with the shoulder portion over the collarbone.
  • Steering wheels that tilt should be directed toward the chest, not the head.

For more information about air bags, visit the following Web sites:

Insurance Institute For Highway Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia