Airbag Related Injuries. Activated air bags can inflict severe eye injuries, including blindness, even in minor car accidents, a small-scale study shows. The research report, published in the Journal of Ophthalmic Surgery and Lasers, describes the spectrum of air-bag-related eye injuries seen during a two-year period by an ophthalmology trauma team at UCLA. The damage ranged in severity from bruises in the eye socket to a critically ruptured eyeball, resulting in blindness.
All patients suffered significant trauma to the soft tissues and bones of the eye socket and/or serious injury to the eyeball itself, the researchers found. The predominant injuries were bruising of the socket (orbital contusion) and bleeding in the eyeball (Hyphema). All five patients suffered Hyphema, and three later developed angle-recession glaucoma, or pressure in the eye due to rips in the eye’s drainage system. Glaucoma, which can slowly destroy vision, needs ongoing treatment. In general, the number of eye injuries from air bags may be rising as more cars become equipped with air bags.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that since 1990, airbag deployment has killed 227 people in low-severity crashes, including 76 drivers, 10 adult passengers, 119 children between the ages of 1 and 11, and 22 infants. Of the 76 adult drivers killed, 28 were women under 5 feet 2 inches tall, and 4 of the 10 adult passengers killed were females smaller than that height.
Airbag systems were developed for the 5 ft 8 inch 180 lb. male, and only tested to be sure they met their needs. Unfortunately, this did not help shorter people, who have to sit closer to the steering wheel than 10 or 12 inches. Nor did the requirements consider children, or those who have medical reasons why they are in danger from the force of an exploding airbag. New medical findings are now available that illustrate the danger of airbag injury to all people. Injuries are far more prevalent than deaths, but the data is difficult to evaluate because accidents and injuries are voluntarily reported to the National Automotive Sampling System and include information not investigated and verified. But these are the best information available. Injuries are not recognized as an issue or tracked by NHTSA.
Dr Maria-Segui Gomez, leading airbag researcher, reported that for female drivers, airbags create a net protective effect only when a vehicle’s speed exceeds 52 to 62 Kmh ( 32 to 38 mph). Ms Gomez published this study in the American Journal of Public Health on October 2000, and she also stated that these speeds may be conservative (i.e. may be higher) because of limitations in the data. At lower speeds, the potential for injury from airbags outweighs the benefits. This included all female drivers, not just the shorter ones defined in NHTSA’s endangered group.
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