Side Airbags Could Save Your Life

airbags, side airbags
When Glendale, California policeman Robert William's life was on the line, he was saved. But it wasn't his badge or his weapon that saved him; CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports it was his cruiser's side air bags after he crashed during a high-speed chase.

William had to be cut out of the wreckage after being trapped for about 25 minutes. Thanks to his side airbags, he escaped with minor injuries.

"I walked back to the accident scene and saw my car. I couldn't believe that was my car. I couldn't believe I walked out of it," William says.

It is easy to understand why a side-impact collision or a so-called "T-Bone" crash is so deadly. In a head-on accident, an engine and four feet of hood is there to protect you, but in a side-impact crash, there's just a few inches of reinforced metal.

That's why side air bags are so important. And now there's proof they're saving thousands of lives. A new insurance industry analysis of real world crashes shows fatalities have dropped 37 percent in cars that have side air bags, which protect both the head and the body.

The life-saving numbers are even more dramatic for SUVS. Fatalities are down 52 percent in sport utility vehicles.

"In over 20 some odd years of being a fire rescue paramedic, I have seen a significant change in the severity of the injuries," says Capt. William Cooke with Montgomery County, Maryland's emergency management department.

Cooke says his paramedics respond to 7,000 accidents a year.

There's no doubt side airbags have dramatically cut deaths in both T-bone and rollover crashes.

"We've run on over 200 rollover accidents just this year," Cooke says. "We see a lot less injuries, which in the past, drivers were severely injured and cost fatalities."

No one has to convince Officer William or the Glendale police of the life-saving benefits. All cruisers there are now required to have side air bags. And automakers, too, are getting the message. They promise to make side air bags standard equipment on all cars by 2010.

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