Side Airbag Safety 101

A flooded SUV is shown in a rain soaked creek near Douglasville, Ga., Monday, Sept. 21, 2009. Heavy rain caused flooding in and around Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Side airbags that protect people's heads are reducing driver deaths in cars struck on the near (driver) side by an estimated 37 percent, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Airbags that protect only the chest and abdomen but not the head are reducing deaths by 26 percent.

The Institute's study confirms that side airbags are reducing fatality risk in these crashes. Automakers are cooperating to reduce vehicle incompatibilities in both side and front collisions that lead to car occupant injuries, and a big part of this is to equip vehicles with side airbags.

How many people die in car accidents?

42,636 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2004. The Institute publishes statistical facts about the motor vehicle safety picture in 2004, the most recent year for which fatality data are available. Fatality Facts are updated once a year, when the US Department of Transportation releases data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Does My Car Have Side Airbags?

For model-by-model information on side airbag availability in 1996-2006 models, go to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags vary by design. Some descend from the vehicle roof to protect the heads of occupants in both front and back seats. Combination side airbags inflate from the vehicle seat or sometimes the door. These protect occupants' torsos and heads too.

Does My Car Have Other Safety Technologies?

You can select a vehicle on the 5-Star Crash Test and Rollover Ratings section of and view its safety features chart, or you can order a Buying a Safer Car brochure by calling 888-327-4236.

For Information On Electronic Stability Control:

•Click here for more information about highway safety from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

• For information about air bag safety, click here.

Consumer Reports

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

The Center For Auto Safety