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Tuesday, February 17, 1998 Published at 17:29 GMT



Sci/Tech

Airbags could be killing children, say researchers
image: [ Safety of airbags has been called into question ]
Safety of airbags has been called into question

Vehicle safety experts in America are concerned that airbags designed to protect passengers may in fact killed scores of children.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are using computer technology in an effort to find out more about the possible dangers.


[ image: The airbag inflates behind the child]
The airbag inflates behind the child
The main risk is to small children placed in rear-facing child seats, which are placed on the front passenger seat.

RAC spokesman Jeremy Vanke explained that, as the airbag rapidly inflates, it can hit the back of the child's seat, push the infant up and force its skull against the car roof or through the windscreen.

The five-year research programme in America involves simulating thousands of car crashes on computer and analysing the results.


[ image: Jeremy Vanke: Cars in Britain are safer]
Jeremy Vanke: Cars in Britain are safer
Campaigners in the UK are keeping a close eye on the research but they have also tried to reassure British motorists.

Mr Vanke said airbags fitted to cars in Britain are safer than those used in American cars.

""The system used in the US is very different to the one here. In the States airbags are designed to be used without seat belts," he said.


Jeremy Vanke: "The system used in the US is very different to the one here" (1'34")
"They are bigger and they inflate more violently. Here we have smaller airbags that are a little more gentle and that's why we will not see some of the problems they claim to have seen in the States" said Mr Vanke.

"If a small child is sitting in the passenger seat and it's not right up against the dashboard then there's no real danger.


[ image: The exploding bag is dangerous if it gets under the child's seat]
The exploding bag is dangerous if it gets under the child's seat
"The problem in the States is that if the child is not wearing a restraint the airbag almost gets under the child and lifts it on top of the airbag and puts it through the windscreen.

"That's not something we see in the UK."

Mr Vanke said car manufacturers are aware of the problem and have started fitting warning stickers to car dashboards.

"We have to remember that the benefits of airbags far, far outweigh the disadvantages," he said.






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