National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
(Washington, D.C.) – The National Transportation Safety Board today adopted a safety study containing new recommendations for improving the performance and use of vehicle occupant safety systems for children – air bags, seat belts, and child restraint systems.
The study was initiated in response to a growing number of inquiries from the public regarding the safety of small children in passenger vehicles. The Safety Board investigated a total of 133 accidents involving at least one vehicle in which there was a child passenger under age 11, and in which at least one occupant was transported to a hospital.
The Safety Board concluded that:
• Children in the back seats of vehicles (especially if properly restrained) are less likely to sustain injury than those seated in front seats.
• Passenger-side air bags, as currently designed, are not acceptable as a protective device for children positioned in front of them, and can kill or critically injure them in accidents that would have been survivable had the air bag not deployed.
• Air bags are designed in accordance with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requirements to protect unbelted rather than belted vehicle occupants, even though the air bags are promoted as supplemental restraint systems and the majority of motor vehicle occupants now use seatbelts.
• NHTSA's air bag performance certification testing is not representative of actual accident environments.
Drawing on the study, the Safety Board called on state authorities to disseminate educational materials emphasizing the importance of transporting children in the back seats of passenger vehicles, and urged that mandatory state child restraint use laws be expanded to cover children up to 8 years old.
The Board also recommended that NHTSA immediately revise performance requirements for passenger-side air bags based on testing procedures that reflect actual accident circumstances, including the effects of pre-impact braking, out-of-position child occupants (belted and unbelted), properly positioned belted child occupants, and cases where the seat track is in the forward-most position.
NHTSA also was urged to establish a timetable to implement intelligent air bag technology that will moderate or prevent air bag deployment, if full deployment poses a hazard to a vehicle occupant.
Noting that there will be nearly 22 million vehicles with passenger-side air bags on the road by the end of 1996, with an additional 13 million added each subsequent year, the Board recommended that technical solutions being developed for air bags in cars in the future – increasing deployment thresholds, depowering the passenger-side air bag, installing weight sensors – also be considered for vehicles now on the road.
With regard to seatbelts/child restraint systems, the Board determined that more than two-thirds of the children in the accidents investigated were not in an appropriate restraint for their age, height and weight. Many, for example, had changed directly from child restraint systems to seatbelts, rather than using booster seats as an interim measure. Over half of the children who used child restraint systems were improperly restrained, as were about one-quarter of the children who used seatbelts. Further, the Board found that securing a child restraint system properly in a vehicle is complicated by incompatibilities related to the design of current passenger vehicles, seatbelts and the restraint systems.
Consequently, the Board issued recommendations to NHTSA and the automobile and child restraint manufacturers calling for new design standards that would simplify placement of a child in a restraint system, provide for secure and uniform installation of child restraints, require adjustable upper anchorages at all outboard rear seating positions and the installation of center rear lap/shoulder belts in all newly manufactured vehicles. The Board also suggested that the automobile manufacturers develop programs to reduce the misuse of child restraint systems that include elements such as training for dealership personnel in the proper use of restraint systems and promotional events to provide parents with such information.
Prior to completion of the safety study, the Board, on November 2, 1995, issued a number of urgent recommendations to NHTSA, the automobile and restraint manufacturers, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Advertising Council calling for a nationwide media and mail campaign to alert the public to the dangers of placing a rear-facing child safety seat or an unrestrained child in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with a passenger-side air bag. The Board also urgently recommended that highly visible warning labels be installed in passenger vehicles.
As a result of the safety study, the Board reiterated a recommendation that state governments enact legislation to provide for primary enforcement of mandatory safety belt laws, and consider enforcement provisions such as fines and/or the imposition of driver license penalty points.
The two-volume safety study (PB96-917005) will be available for purchase from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161. Telephone: (703) 487-4650.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.