In 1996, our nation faced a highway safety crisis: 35 people, including 26 children, died from air bag related injuries in relatively low-speed crashes. Virtually all were improperly or completely unrestrained. At the time, there were approximately 22 million vehicles with front passenger air bags on the road and more than one million new air bag cars and light trucks were being added to the fleet each month. If Immediatee action was not taken, there could be hundreds of air bag fatalities - many of them children - in the coming years.
By 2000, the number of passenger air bags in cars, light trucks, and vans had more than tripled to 80.3 million. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations show that air bag related fatalities dropped dramatically to 18 (including some fatalities still under investigation) in the year 2000. Air bags contributed to one child fatality for every 8.9 million passenger air bags in 2000 compared to one child fatality for every 870,000 passenger air bags in 1996, a reduction of 90.3%.
For drivers, air bags contributed to one fatality for every 17.6 million driver air bags in 2000 compared to one driver fatality for every 7 million driver air bags in 1996, a reduction of 60%. Perhaps more importantly, as of July 1, no air bag related fatalities have been confirmed for the first six months in 2001, although five are under investigation.
A June 2001 survey of 600 drivers, which has been regularly conducted since 1996, found for the first time that no drivers of vehicles equipped with passenger air bags report placing children from birth through age four in the front seat. Only 10% say they allow children 5-12 to ride in front of an air bag. However, despite what is reported, children are still being injured and killed because they are not properly secured in a back seat.