The effect of frontal airbags on belted driver injury patterns in Europe and the U.S. - where do future priorities lie?

Injury patterns by body region were compared for belted drivers who had sustained at least one moderate or greater injury (MAIS 2+ belted drivers) in airbag equipped and non-airbag cars. For airbag equipped cars, both European and US data showed about a 30% decrease in the fraction of these drivers who sustained AIS 2+ head injuries. European data found little difference in the relative frequency of AIS 2+ chest injury and cervical strain, whereas U.S. data showed a decreased frequency of AIS 2+ chest injury for MAIS 2+ belted drivers in airbag equipped cars. Both European and U.S. data show a substantially increased frequency of AIS 2+ upper limb injury for these drivers. AIS 2+ shoulder injuries contributed significantly to the increase. U.K., U.S. and German data show only a very small risk of head injury for all belted drivers in the no-deployment condition. On the other hand, European data suggests that the airbag appears to have little effect on injury outcome below 30 km/h delta v for all belted drivers. Currently, the North American experience of frontal airbag field performance is more extensive than it is in Europe. This is a consequence of their much earlier introduction into the car fleet. U.S. field studies show that airbags are effective in reducing occupant fatality by 31% in purely frontal crashes (NHTSA, 1996). Studies have also looked at effectiveness related specifically to airbag and belt combinations, belt only and airbag only.