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Age, not height and weight, may be a better marker for assessing risk to children riding in vehicles with air bags

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires warnings on motor vehicles that children age 12 years and under can be seriously injured or killed by an air bag. A new study concludes that the risk of serious air-bag-related injury may extend to age 14 when children in this age group are seated in the right front passenger seat in vehicles equipped with air bags.

Craig D. Newgard, M.D., M.P.H., of Oregon Health and Science University, and Roger J. Lewis, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, examined the impact of height, weight, and age on air-bag-related injury in a national group of 3,790 children age 1 month to 18 years. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (F32 HS00148). The researchers examined crash data from the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System between 1995 and 2002 on children seated in the right front passenger seat of motor vehicles equipped with air bags. Children age 14 years and younger seemed to be at nearly three times the risk of serious injury when involved in frontal collisions in vehicles with air bags and over six times the risk of serious injury when that air bag deployed compared with older children.

Children aged 15 to 18 years involved in frontal collisions were 81 percent less likely to be injured when an air bag was present and a 69 percent less likely to be injured when the air bag deployed. The researchers did not find any relationship between height or weight and injury, suggesting that age may be a better marker than height or weight for risk assessment regarding children and air bags. Changes in body composition and bone mass associated with the onset of puberty (typically at age 11 for girls and 13 for boys) may play a role in susceptibility to injury from air bags and could be one explanation for their findings.

See "Effects of child age and body size on serious injury from passenger air-bag presence in motor vehicle crashes," by Drs. Newgard and Lewis, in the June 2005 Pediatrics 115(6), pp. 1579-1585.

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