Side Impacts Deadly and on the Rise

Adding side air bags may increase a vehicle's cost, but not having them installed could cost you your life, according to new evidence published in the online version of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Jeffery Bazarian and his colleagues at the University of Rochester School of Medicine analyzed 2000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data and found car occupants more likely to sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) if the car is struck on its side than if it is struck from the front or the rear. Occupants of vehicles hit laterally were 160 percent more likely to incur a TBI than occupants of vehicles hit on other areas of the car.

Since 1980, there has been a dramatic increase in deaths from vehicle-to-vehicle lateral impacts, while vehicle-to-vehicle frontal impact deaths have decreased, according to the study. TBI is the leading cause of death from a lateral impact.

The study, which will be published in a future printed version of the journal under the title, "Lateral Automobile Impacts and the Risk of Traumatic Brain Injury," also found that vehicle modifications to increase head protection could potentially reduce the severity of crash-related TBIs by up to 61 percent and could potentially prevent up to 2,230 fatal or critical TBIs each year in the United States.

"Side-impact air bags that offer head protection are rare in automobiles in the United States," said Bazarian. "Currently, there are three types of side-impact air bags on the market, two of which offer head protection. However, federal regulations have not mandated side-impact air bags and car manufacturers have leaned away from making them standard on all cars. This means American consumers must pay about $400 extra to have this optional feature added. Side impacts pose a serious threat to the health of Americans, one that can only be reduced through the concerted efforts of both government and industry."

Annals of Emergency Medicine is the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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