Press Releases

1999 Releases

Kids More Likely to Sit in Rear in Cars With Airbags

For immediate release: December 07, 1999 

Boston, MA--The installation of passenger airbags in new cars and light trucks has been associated with a significant decline in the number of children (aged 12 and under) riding in the front seat, according to findings of a roadside observational survey by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Among vehicles with children, a child was observed in the front seat 30% of the time in vehicles without a passenger airbag, yet only 17% of the time in vehicles with a passenger airbag.

The study appears in the December 1999 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has documented numerous cases of child fatalities directly attributed to airbags.

"More safety resources need to be targeted at kids ages 7 through 12," said principal investigator Eve Wittenberg of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health. The study found that if any child in the vehicle was aged 7 through 12, the vehicle was almost three times as likely to have a child riding in the front as vehicles carrying exclusively children ages 6 and under.

Moving more children to the back seat is feasible, said the study authors. When children were seen riding in the front seat, at least one unused seat in the back was observed in 91% of the vehicles.

Additionally, when drivers buckle up, kids are more likely to be seated in the rear. A child was seated in the front in 20% of the vehicles in which a driver was belted but in 36% of the vehicles in which the driver was not belted.

The study is based on a combination of roadside observations and driver interviews at randomly selected, convenient stopping points throughout the New England region such as fast food restaurants and rest stops. Seating location and driver belt use were determined by observation, which is considered more reliable than self-reporting over the telephone. Age of children was determined through the driver interview, which was conducted after the vehicle was observed.

Inquiries should be directed to primary author Ms. Wittenberg. Senior Author Professor John D. Graham of the Harvard School of Public Health is traveling abroad.

For further information, please contact:

Eve Wittenberg
Phone: 617-432-1316


Robin Herman
Director of Communications
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu