Are airbags dangerous for children?

Airbags can save lives and are essential car safety features, but they can also be very dangerous for children. Depending on the severity of a car crash, airbags can deploy at speeds up to 186 mph. A child under 12 is at risk when riding in rear-facing seats or when not adequately restrained.

Why are front airbags dangerous for children age 12 and under? The short answer is that airbags are designed to protect adults.

Never use a rear-facing child seat if an airbag is active. A deploying airbag can violently impact an out-of-position child with sufficient force to crush the safety seat and injure or kill the infant. Statistics show that airbags have saved the lives of people who might have died otherwise in the last decades.

However, experts say a child should not be placed on the seat next to the driver, as the airbags can do as much harm as the accident itself. An airbag inflates almost instantly, in as little as 20 to 30 milliseconds. The center of the back seat is the most secure place for a child, in a child safety seat and wearing a lap-and-shoulder seat belt. The thin nylon airbag gets an immediate injection of hot nitrogen gas, which makes it expand so quickly that it forces it out from the dashboard at about 186 mph.

An infant’s head in a rear-facing safety seat is directly in front of the airbag as it breaks through the dashboard and instantly inflates. Also, if a child is wriggling around or leaning forward because they are unrestrained or are too small for the lap and shoulder belt to fit properly, there is a danger that they will be too close to the dashboard when the airbag begins to inflate.

Airbags can also be dangerous for children under 12 if they travel in the front seat. They have more sensitive backs, necks, and stomach muscles than adults and have a large head compared to their body proportions, so it is difficult for them to maintain a correct position even during a minor collision. So, it is most likely that they will be hit directly by the airbag while it expands.

What injuries can airbags cause?

In the last three years, the percent of child occupant deaths occurring in front seats was 12 to 14 percent, down from 46 percent in 1975. Therefore, not following the recommendation that children 12 and younger ride in the rear seats of vehicles still causes victims. A child under age one does not have strong neck muscles; the head would snap forward in a crash if the baby were facing forward. This could cause severe neck and spinal cord injury.

The tremendous force of airbag deployment can cause serious injuries, including:

Are side airbags safe near a child’s car seat?

Most modern cars are fitted with several airbags. These may include door pillar or vehicle seat airbags and head airbags or inflatable tubular structures, which stay inflated for five seconds to protect against side impact movements. Some child car seats have added protection and padding for side impacts that help to prevent the child’s head from striking the window or any other part of the interior.

The risk of a side airbag injury is typically lower for children who are properly restrained and positioned. If your car has side airbags, make sure that the child restraint does not rest against the door. Your child should not lean close to or against the door or window. If in doubt, check the seat manufacturer's approval list and your car manufacturer's handbook to learn how far the airbag comes out deployed.

In some car models, curtain airbags drop down in front of the rear seats in the event of a side-impact crash. There is no evidence that curtain airbags cause problems for a child who is restrained correctly in their car seat, but you should check that this information is correct for your car model.

Many parents want to place their baby facing forward. Is this okay?

  • No, infants must always ride facing the rear in the back seat. The safest place for a child is in the center of the back seat, using a lap-and-shoulder seat belt or a safety seat. Children under 4 feet 9 inches should ride in booster seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) inform that babies should ride facing the back until they are at least one year old and weigh at least 20 pounds.
  • When the child is facing the back, the force of the crash is spread across the whole body. TThe child seat harness must be snug, and the seat should be at a 45-degree angle to support the baby’s head and maintain an open airway. Some safety seats have an indicator on the side to show the correct angle. A child seat installed in a position that is too upright can be appropriately angled by using a firmly rolled sheet or towel under the seat’s foot.
  • The rear seat is the safest place in the vehicle for any passenger, not just children. Head-on crashes cause the greatest number of serious injuries. A person sitting in the back seat is farthest away from the impact and less likely to be injured. People sitting in the rear have the soft back of the front seat in front of them, instead of hard surfaces like the windshield, mirror, or dashboard. If no rear seat is available in which to place a rear-facing infant seat, and another mode of transportation is available, use of that alternative should be considered.

In case a child must ride in the front, they need to be properly buckled up, placed on the bottom with their back against the seat, and the seat needs to be moved as far back as possible. If a car has a cut-off switch installed, the airbag can be turned off in such situations.

If your child has been injured due to improper deployment of an airbag or a defective child safety seat, you need an experienced, compassionate attorney to help you prepare your case. The attorney at The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary has the resources to investigate the incident and will actively work to protect your legal rights. These cases can be very complex, but we have significant experience in defective airbag cases.

The personal injury lawyer at The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary is eager to review your claim and any concerns you may have about your accident. If the airbag was defective, you might be able to build a strong product liability case. Remember that delay can harm your case. For a free consultation, give us a call today, or complete this convenient online contact form.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided on this site is not formal legal advice, also the site does not allow you to form an attorney-client relationship.