Children 14 and younger should not sit in the front passenger seat of cars equipped with air bags, according to a new study by an emergency medicine researcher at Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
Current federally mandated warning labels in cars only indicate a risk of air bag injuries for children 12 and younger.
The study, "Effects of Child Age and Body Size on Serious Injury From Passenger Air Bag Presence in Motor Vehicle Crashes," will be published in the June 6 edition of the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal Pediatrics.
"Eight years ago, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its recommendations, they were based on the best information (about air bag safety) available at the time," said Craig Newgard, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of emergency medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine's Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine, and an emergency physician at OHSU and Doernbecher hospitals.
"Those warnings worked in reducing injuries to children. But, as a parent and emergency physician, I felt it was time to study whether more children could be at risk and assess whether age or body size were good measurement guidelines."
Newgard looked at a population-based sample of 3,790 children aged 1 month to 18 years who were seated in the right front seat and involved in motor vehicle crashes. The eight-year sample was supplied by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System and encompasses one of the largest, most current and comprehensive databases on air bags.
The study found that children 14 and younger were at high risk for serious injury from air bags when they sat in the front passenger seat during car crashes. In contrast, air bags had a protective effect for children aged 15 to 18. In addition, the study showed age may be a better indicator of risk than height or weight. Several body changes during puberty, such as muscle mass, bone density and bone mineral content, may help explain why body size isn't a good measurement of risk in children.
These results were consistent with several previous studies.
"Anyone who drives needs to be empowered with this information. When my 13-year-old nephew wants to sit in the front seat now, I won't let him," said Newgard.