The back seat is the safest place for young passengers.

Are Side Curtain Airbags Safe for Children?

by Susan Revermann

Current vehicles these days are made with safety as one of the top priorities -- especially child safety. Vehicles have evolved to include built-in front and side airbags. If you follow the proper safety recommendations, you and your child should feel safe and secure while you are on the road.

1. Airbag Types

Not all airbags are the same. You will find three main types of airbags: chest, head, and head/chest combination side-impact air bags. The chest, or torso, side-impact air bags (SABs) are mounted into the side of the seat or in the vehicle’s door and protect a person’s chest during an auto accident. You will find head SABs mounted in the roof rail above the side windows; these deploy in either a tubular shape or as a curtain on the side of the car to protect front and rear occupants during a side-impact collision. The head/chest combination airbags are often installed in the side of the seat and protect the head and upper body of an adult occupant.

2. Side Curtain Airbags

Side-curtain airbags, also called curtain side-impact air bags, are a type of head SABs. These side-impact curtain airbags inflate within a fraction of a second, and are designed to cushion the head and to protect the head from impact with the vehicle and other hard objects. Some side-curtain airbags are intended to provide additional protection so that a person is not ejected from the vehicle during an accident -- especially in a rollover accident.

3. Child Side-Airbag Safety

According to the SaferCar.gov website, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “has not seen any indication that current roof-mounted, head-side air bags pose a risk to children." However, the NHTSA advises you to not to position your child, let him lean against or rest his head against chest-only or head/chest combination air bags, as he may become injured during the deployment of these bags.

4. Additional Safety Tips

Side airbags are intended for use in conjunction with proper safety restraints such as seat belts and car seats. Do not expect airbags alone to protect a person in a collision. The NHTSA states that all children must be safely secured in a device appropriate for their age and size. For infants, this is a rear-facing infant seat until the child is 2 years or when the child reaches the highest weight or height the car seat manufacturer allows; for children 2 years and older, the child needs to be in a forward-facing car seat with a harness, up to the highest weight or height that the car seat manufacturer allows; for children who have outgrown the forward-facing car seat, that child needs to be in a belt-positioning booster seat until that child is 4 feet, 9 inches in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age, according to HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. All children 12 or younger are safest in the backseat. Never position a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat if the vehicle has a front passenger airbag in place.

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