When you purchase a new car in the future, chances are it will come equipped with "smart" air bags. These advanced air bags are able to identify when the driver or passenger is too small, and adjust for safety. This means kids can go in the front seat, right? Wrong. Safety experts still maintain children belong in the back seat of a car, properly restrained.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), since 1990 air bags have caused 231 deaths, including 144 children. The force of air bag deployment is simply too much for small passengers to endure. Partly for this reason, safety experts have advocated for seating children in the back seat of the car. Between 1996 and 2001, the lives of 1,700 children have been saved because they were sitting in the back seat, according to estimates from the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign. Despite the call for safety, a recent NHTSA survey found 15% of infants, 10% of one- to three-year-olds, and 29% of four- to seven-year-olds still ride in the front seat.
To meet new federal safety standards, automakers are required to install the smart air bag systems in all new cars by September 1, 2006. A few automakers have already begun to install the advanced air bags in some of their new cars, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., and DaimlerChrysler AG. The new air bag systems involve weight sensors in the front seats to detect the size of the driver or passenger. If the passenger is too small, the air bag must either automatically turn off or deploy at a slower rate.
While the smart air bags are a step in the right direction for air bag safety and provide a safety net, they are not intended as the primary means for keeping children safe in the event of an accident. Regardless of the type of air bag system in a car, children should still ride in the back seat.
May 2004 Update