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Curtain call for head protection

Survival: Airbags that protect the head can turn a lethal side-on crash into a survivable one.

Research finds that side curtain airbags can greatly reduce accident injuries

General News logo3 Dec 2004

NEW research has revealed that head-protecting side curtain airbags reduce the risk of death and serious injury by up to 45 per cent in side-impact crashes into poles and trees, which account for 35 per cent of all road fatalities in Victoria.

Analysis of real-world crashes by the Monash University Accident Research Centre also shows that four-wheel drives have a high rate of side impacts into poles and trees, compared with other vehicle types.

The results of recent SUV pole crash tests yesterday prompted the RACV, VicRoads and TAC to announce that to have head protection in sideways crashes, car buyers should specify a vehicle with head-protecting airbags.

"Airbags that protect the head turn a lethal side-on crash into a survivable one," the authorities said in a statement issued this week.

"Recent Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) tests of six popular four-wheel drive vehicles consisted of a vehicle being crashed sideways into a pole at 29km/h.

"One of the vehicles (Toyota Prado Grande) tested in Australia had a curtain side airbag. This worked well and the dummy measurements indicated a very low risk of serious head injury.

"Side airbags, which protect the chest and abdomen, can provide important protection to those parts of the body, but do not provide head protection in side-on collisions with trees and poles, or with high-fronted vehicles like large 4WDs." The authorities said 10 similar tests in Europe and Japan on different vehicles fitted with head protection airbags confirmed the Australian results.

"This emphasises the necessity for buyers to specify a full airbag package of front, side and head-protecting side airbags or curtains when purchasing a new vehicle," the statement read.

"Unfortunately, in many cases, these packages are combined with luxury or convenience items which then increase the cost and make them unaffordable for some vehicle buyers. Vehicle manufacturers are being encouraged to make a full airbag package available as a cheaper safety pack, although standard fitment, as occurs in other countries, would be more desirable.

"There is little room in the vehicle to provide protection because the occupants are so close to the crash, but recent improvements in technology mean these crashes are now survivable. Curtain airbags have the added benefit of protecting rear seat occupants." The RACV, TAC and VicRoads have also called for the introduction of electronic stability control systems in four-wheel drives to reduce the risk of running off the road and hitting a tree or pole in the first place.

Studies carried out in the US by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have shown that stability control systems reduce the incidence of single-vehicle crashes by 56 per cent, and that in turn has reduced the number of rollovers.

Last month, General Motors and Chrysler announced ESP would be made standard on their 4WDs sold in the US.

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