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Government Makes It Official: Air Bags Can Kill Children

Oct 23, 1996 |

Air bags saved nearly 500 adult lives last year, but that was not the case for children. At least 28 children have been killed by the force of an air bag during an accident.

Smaller children are at the greatest risk, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The NHTSA estimates that air bags could kill more than 50 children a year, after passenger-side air bags become mandatory in all cars, in model year 1998.

According to a report released Wednesday, the NHTSA has ruled for the first time that a child properly using an automobile's front seat belt was killed by an air bag.

Last month, five-year-old Frances Ambrose of Nashville, Tennessee, died in a low-speed accident while correctly wearing a lap and shoulder belt in the front passenger seat of a car.

Ambrose' father and other parents who lost their children in accidents involving air bags told their stories in Washington Wednesday.

In most of the reported cases children were killed by the air bag because they were not wearing safety belts or were not in a child safety seat. There are now laws in all 50 states requiring children to be in safety seats while riding in automobiles. The NHTSA advises that all children younger than 12 ride in the back seat.

The government is encouraging auto companies to look at air bag sensor technology that could better protect small passengers. The sensor systems control air bag deployment by determining the size and position of a seated passenger.

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