Airbags may be designed to save lives but they can turn a minor accident into a major problem for kids under the age of 12.
If you let a child sit in the front seat and they're too small you run the risk of them being injured by the airbag.
There are crashes everyday where children have been injured from being in the front seat of a car.
What people need to understand is that those airbags are designed for adults, they’re not designed for children.
But instead airbags are doing the opposite, causing serious injuries to kids sitting in the front passenger seat.
The kinds of injuries seen are predominantly injuries to the head that can range from mild injuries such as bruising, to much more significant presentations such as severe concussion. Occasionally there are eye related traumas due to airbag deployment and sometimes injuries to the neck.
Reporter Laura Sparks knows personally how dangerous airbags can be.
"Just the other day my 9 year old son was sitting right here in the front seat of this car when it was involved in a head on collision. Immediately the airbags were deployed and they hit him directly here at the front of his forehead, he suffered severe concussion and was raced to hospital by ambulance,” she said.
“In emergency at Sydney Children’s Hospital he was rushed from x rays to CT scans, vomiting and incoherent and at one point he didn’t even know his own name, it was truly terrifying.”
Kellie Wilson is the clinical nurse consultant in Trauma at Sydney Children’s Hospital and it’s here where kids like Laura's son end up.
“Airbag related injuries are certainly a known problem to us,” Kellie said.
“Are the parents surprised?” Laura asked.
“Yes I think it often surprises the parents because they tend to have a perception that airbags are a safety device that are going to keep their children safely restrained in the event of a motor vehicle accident when in fact they can often contribute to the injuries a child may experience,” said Kellie.
It is illegal to allow kids under seven to sit in the front seat. After their 7th birthday there is no law against it yet airbag manufacturers don’t design airbags with children in mind.
In order to protect the biggest men who will sit in the front seat, an airbag has to come out at about 200kms an hour. That doesn’t mean it’s the right speed and strength for a small child sitting in the front seat.
Professor Lynne Bilston is the principal researcher at Neuroscience Research Australia. Her research into brain injuries lead her directly to airbags.
Airbag systems are designed for an adult male, the average adult male who's about 75 kilos and 180cm tall.
They’re also tested with small female crash test dummies who are about 150cms tall and that’s really the smallest person that should be sitting in the front seat.
150cms is the height of an average 12-year-old. It’s this age that Lynne suggests is safe for kids to finally travel up front. Some car manuals indicate the height minimum can be slightly shorter at 140cms.
If a person shorter like a child then the airbag would come out and it would come out somewhat over the top of their head. The result is that they wouldn’t get the even loading all the way down the front of their body which supports the body in the crash. This would increase the risk of injuries to the head and neck.
The latest research proves kids between 9 and 15 are 70 percent safer in the backseat of newer cars compared to sitting in the front.
In the UK it’s illegal for children to sit in the front seat until they’re 12 or 135cm tall. The US Federal Health department suggests all children under 13 should sit in the back seat because "airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat"
It’s very concerning when we go to a crash and there are small children in the front seat and they’ve received injuries.
Senior Sergeant Sophie Stone from the NSW Police Metropolitan Crash Investigation Unit sifts through 100s of fatal car crashes every year.
She has one warning for parents.
“Just put them in the back seat, explain to them it’s for their own safety, we need to get them thinking about their own safety, whether that be it’s safer for them in the back seat,” she says.
Fortunately it was a good outcome for Laura's son. "After three days in hospital my son left with just a bruise on his forehead and no sport for a month. A small price to pay for keeping him safe!”
For more information on Neuroscience Research Australia contact them on www.neura.edu.au or 0293991000
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