Press Releases

1997 Releases

Study Shows Airbags a Worthwhile Investment: Risk to Children Must Be Addressed

For immediate release: November 04, 1997

Boston, MA--Using real-world information about the efficacy of air bags in the prevention of injury and death in autombile accidents, Harvard School of Public Health researchers report that air bags are a worthwhile investment, though risk to children is a significant concern. The authors caution that vehicles with passenger side airbags will need to be reassessed, since more children may be placed at risk of injury and death in the future as these vehicles are resold to owners who are less educated and less aware of the airbag's danger to children. Nevertheless, the cost-effectiveness of driver and passenger-side airbags are comparable to other medical interventions that are commonly accepted. The analysis is reported in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors' methods of analysis accounts for the injuries and deaths prevented by airbags as well as the harm caused by airbags. The concept of "quality adjusted life year" (QALY) is used as the overall measure of effectiveness. The authors found that for each year of life lost by children because of the passenger airbag, roughly five years of life were saved among adult passengers. Cost information included in the analysis encompassed the expense of installing and replacing airbags as well as the medical costs averted and caused by deployment of airbags. The cost-effectiveness ratios were $24,000 per QALY saved for driver-only airbags and $61,000 per QALY saved for passenger airbags. The passenger airbag is less cost-effective because of the danger to children and the lower rate of occupancy in the passenger seat (since many adults drive alone).

Lead author Professor John Graham, Harvard School of Public Health, comments that "one out of every three American children are observed seated in the front seat, whereas in Germany and France fewer than one out of ten children sit in the front." Graham believes that "Governors and state legislators need to consider stronger laws that would require children to ride in the back seat as well as be properly restrained in child seats and safety belts."

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu