Insurance study: Side airbags real life-savers
Head-protecting side airbags have large life-saving effect in side crashes, study shows.

NEW YORK ( -- Side-impact airbags, particularly those that protect occupants' heads, have a major live-saving effect, according to research released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In cars struck near the driver's side door, side airbags that protect only the occupants' bodies, reduced the risk of death by 26 percent. Head-protecting side airbags, such as those that include side curtain airbags that come down from the roof, reduce the risk of death by 37 percent, according to the Institute.

IIHS side-impact test.
2006 Lincoln Zephyr in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety side-impact test. The Institute's recent research results were based on the sort of real-world crashes mimicked by these tests.
Top Safety PickslaunchSee photos

The safety benefit was even greater for occupants of SUVs. Head-protecting side airbags reduced the risk of death in side impacts by 52 percent for SUV occupants. Non-head-protecting side airbags reduced the risk in side impacts by 30 percent for SUV occupants,

"We found lower fatality risks across the board - among older and younger drivers, male and female drivers, and drivers of both small cars and larger passenger vehicles," says Anne McCartt, Institute vice president for research and an author of the study.

Researchers compared real-world crash records for vehicles that, while otherwise nearly identical, head head-protecting side airbags, non-head-protecting side airbags and no airbags at all.

While 80 percent of all new car and SUV models offer head-protecting side airbags as standard or optional equipment, according to the Institute, fewer than half of pick-up trucks offer them as standard or optional equipment.

The research supports the Institute's use of a side impact test that, by mimicking the impact of a large vehicle into the side of the car being tested, virtually requires head-protecting side airbags for a good result.

All of the Insurance Institute's Gold Top Safety Pick cars have head-protecting side airbags. To be selected as a Gold Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must have a top rating in side, front and rear impact tests by the Insurance Institute.

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