According to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of American College of Surgeons, the use of airbags in combination with seatbelts considerably reduces injuries to the brain, face, spine and chest during motor vehicle collisions. As reported by the Washington Post, the study also shows that simultaneous airbag and seatbelt use leads to lower in-hospital death rates, injury severity and hospital-acquired infections among crash patients.
The study suggests that optimal use of airbags could potentially reduce the use of resources at trauma centers, thus lowering costs. According to the researchers, if all unrestrained crash victims evaluated in the study had used both an airbag and a seatbelt, the estimated cost savings in terms of infection-related deaths and saved hospital days would be more than $60 million over a period of 11 years.
Injury is the leading cause of death among persons age 45 and younger, and motor vehicle collisions are the most frequent cause of injury. The original airbag, which became widely available in the 1980s, was associated with injury and death, particularly in young children and smaller drivers. In response to evidence showing that the original airbags increased the risk of injury due to deployment at a high velocity, depowered, or second-generation airbags were mandated in all U.S. automobiles in 1998. This groundbreaking study is the first to evaluate the potential impact of the use of airbags on a Level 1 trauma center.
The study evaluated 14,390 crash victim patients admitted to a Level I trauma center. The patients were identified as unrestrained (7,881); airbag-only (692); seatbelt-only (4,909); or airbag and seatbelt (908).
According to the study, those who used both airbags and seatbelts were less likely to suffer severe injuries to the brain, face, spine and chest when compared to unrestrained patients. Patients with only airbag deployment were less likely to have abdominal injuries, although airbag-only patients were more likely to sustain injuries to the extremities, an association that was also seen when airbags were used together with seatbelts.
Airbag-only patients had a decreased prevalence of ventilator-associated pneumonia (5.2 percent) and bacteremia (5.8 percent) compared to unrestrained patients (8.3 percent and 5.8 percent respectively). The largest reductions in these infections were seen when airbags were used in combination with seatbelts (2.9 percent for ventilator-associated pneumonia and 2.3 percent for bacteremia).
However, the most important statistic reflected in the study was that the in-hospital death rate was considerably higher for unrestrained patients (6.8 percent), compared with 4.6 percent among airbag-only patients, 3.4 percent in the seatbelt-only category, and 3.8 percent in the airbag and seatbelt population. Researchers indicated that airbags were also associated with fewer days in the intensive care unit (2.8 days compared with 3.7 days for unrestrained patients) and fewer total hospital days (7.1 days compared with 8.6 days for unrestrained patients). Predictably, the largest reduction in hospital days was seen in patients using both airbags and seatbelts (2.0 days in the intensive care unit and 6.4 total hospital days).
For more about the proper use of airbags and seatbelts, see The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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