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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Panel Weighs Danger Air Bags Pose to Kids

WASHINGTON -- Passenger air bags kill roughly one child for every five people they save, according to U.S. government statistics.


The parent of a child killed by a deploying air bag made an emotional appeal Monday for the government to disconnect passenger-side air bags.


"There is nothing more valuable than a child's life,'' Albert Ambrose of Nashville, Tennessee, told a National Transportation Safety Board forum on automobile air bags.


Ambrose's 5-year-old daughter, Frances, was wearing both lap and shoulder belts when she was killed by a deploying air bag in a low-speed accident last September.


At least 38 children and infants and 24 adults have been killed by air bags in accidents they otherwise should have survived, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Air bags have saved 189 passengers since 1986, according to government estimates, and more than 1,800 drivers.


Ambrose said passenger-side air bags should be disconnected "until they are not dangerous to any passenger, regardless of age or size.''


Last Friday, the government told automakers they can install less powerful air bags in new vehicles rolling off the assembly line.


Jim Hall, chairman of the safety board, is holding four days of panel discussions to define the dangers of air bags and possible solutions.


"There is increasing public concern about air bags and urgent questions regarding both the effectiveness of air bags and the potential dangers of the devices,'' he said.


A private safety expert told the forum that current passenger-side air bags are unacceptable because they kill more children than they save.


"For America's children, air bags have been a big loser,'' said John Graham, director of Harvard University's Center for Risk Analysis.


Graham, whose research contributed to the decision in the 1980s to require air bags, said, "We have been stunned and appalled by the harm they inflicted upon children.''


"They appear to kill more children than they save,'' he said. Overall, air bags have increased children's risk of death in the auto accidents by 33 percent, according to a recent government study.


Hall said one problem was a lower rate of seat belt use in the United States than in other industrialized nations. Most of those killed by air bags were not wearing seat belts or were wearing them improperly.