Air Bag Safety for Infants, Toddlers and Children

Air bags save lives by protecting drivers and passengers during frontal crashes, but can be dangerous to young children seated in the front seat or leaning against the door, in the case of side airbags. Learn about air bag safety to help protect your child.


Air Bag Safety for Infants, Toddlers and Children

Narrator: Airbags have saved thousands of lives and prevented millions of injuries to adult passengers since carmakers started installing them in the 1980s, but for children under 13, frontal airbags can be fatal.

Front passenger airbags are in the dashboard and are designed to inflate and fill the space between the occupant and the dashboard to protect an adult in a crash. But for children under 13 years of age, sitting in front of an airbag doubles their risk of serious injury. Michael Nance is a doctor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who is an expert at treating injured children.

Michael Nance, MD: When a head-on crash occurs, seat belts and airbags are designed to work together to help passengers come to a gradual stop and to protect against injuries. But for a child in the same situation, the rapidly-inflating airbag can pull the head away from the body resulting in serious injury and sometimes death.

Narrator: A rear-facing child can also be killed from the force of an airbag hitting the back of their safety seat. Never place a rear-facing child in a seat with a frontal airbag. The best protection is to put your child in the right restraint for your child's age and size in the back seat of your vehicle each and every time you travel.

Airbags have been improved since the early 80s, but even now the risk of fatal or critical injury for children remains high. For that reason, children under 13 should never be seated in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger airbag. There may be times when your child must ride in the front seat. You may be driving a pickup truck or sports car with no back seat, have more children in the car than can safely fit in the rear seat, or your child has a medical condition that may require your attention. If a child must ride in the front vehicle seat with a passenger airbag, move the vehicle seat as far back as possible and make sure he is correctly restrained.

Just remember children sitting in front of an airbag during a crash are at double the risk of serious injury. So before you decide to expose your child to that risk, you should consider all your options. Whenever possible, avoid transporting infants and children in vehicles without rear seats and make sure they are properly restrained. If your child requires constant attention, make sure there is an adult riding in the back seat. As the driver, you need to keep your eyes on the road.

Some vehicles now come with side airbags in addition to frontal ones that can protect passengers and drivers in side-impact crashes and rollovers. Side airbags and curtain airbags can come out of the side of the vehicle seat or from the roof above the window and can provide protection for both the front and back passengers. Some cars may have side airbags in the rear seat that come out of the seat back or door. Side airbags may be harmful to children who are leaning against the door. Side airbags are smaller than front airbags and inflate with much less force. But if the child's head is too close to the side airbag, your child could suffer a serious injury. Consult your owner's manual to learn if it is safe for children to sit next to a side airbag in your vehicle. In all vehicles with side airbags, teach your children not to lean against the door.

Pickup trucks and other vehicles without a back seat have on/off switches for the airbag. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes some exceptions for consumers with special circumstances who need to have airbag on/off switches installed in their cars. If a child must ride in this type of vehicle, be sure to turn the airbag off, especially for a rear-facing seat. You must remember to turn the airbag back on for the protection of the next adult passenger.

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child, safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Related Centers and Programs: Car Seat Safety for Kids