airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?
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Thread: airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

  1. #1
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    airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

    According to www.nhtsa.gov/airbags, 12 years old is the appropriate age at which it is safe for kids to sit in the front seat with air bags. Clearly, this is some sort of generalization since not all 12 year olds are the same height or weight.

    I'm wondering what height or weight that number really corresponds to. My own daughter is in the 25% percentile of height for 12 year olds. She's 4'9.5". (For completeness, she's 93 lbs.)

    Interestingly, I see the NHTSA uses a height of 4'8" as the cutoff for "short adults" in their writings. For example, the say that as long as drivers sit 10" away from the steering wheel, then adults 4'8" to 5'5" are safe. Alas, their discussion of adequacy for the passenger side is rather lacking.

    I searched on airbags through google and found that there is a fair amount of controversy over the effectiveness of airbags in a variety of ways. I'm not trying to open up that debate.

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  3. #2
    Wayne Lim
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    Re: airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

    Originally posted by donlibes
    According to www.nhtsa.gov/airbags, 12 years old is the appropriate age at which it is safe for kids to sit in the front seat with air bags. Clearly, this is some sort of generalization since not all 12 year olds are the same height or weight.

    I'm wondering what height or weight that number really corresponds to. My own daughter is in the 25% percentile of height for 12 year olds. She's 4'9.5". (For completeness, she's 93 lbs.)

    Interestingly, I see the NHTSA uses a height of 4'8" as the cutoff for "short adults" in their writings. For example, the say that as long as drivers sit 10" away from the steering wheel, then adults 4'8" to 5'5" are safe. Alas, their discussion of adequacy for the passenger side is rather lacking.

    I searched on airbags through google and found that there is a fair amount of controversy over the effectiveness of airbags in a variety of ways. I'm not trying to open up that debate.
    I think the suggestions are also based on studies of neck strength. I'm not sure if that's because the airbag can inflate hard and fast enough to snap someone's head backwards or what. Children do have disproportionately large heads in comparison to their bodies, at least until somewhere in the 6-7-8-9-10 year age range. I'd guess the "12 year old" recommendation is being on the conservative side.

    I think there was an auto safety education class that my kids had at their school, because a couple of weeks ago when we measured how tall our kids were, my 9 3/4 year old son loudly proclaimed that since he was now over 4'8", he could ride in the front seat. His twin sister, who has just barely gotten to 4'6", was distressed more than a little bit at this development, until we explained that the 4'8" rule was a guideline for adults and despite the fact that many of their friends get to ride in the front seat, our family rules were going to be a bit different. I think that's diffused it for a little while, but also while I know that an airbag inflation can cause other damage like retinal detachments and such, I'd be partly hypocritical to make my kids sit in the back while I let my wife, whom I care about just as much if not more, sit in the front and be subjected to the same prospect for injury.

    Hard questions, no easy answers. If you do find a good answer, please let me know!

    BTW, I didn't know they still had "percentile" charts for children over the age of five. I was told by my pediatrician that a lot of it was due to the fact that kids older than that could understand and might have issues dealing with something they could not control (their height and weight) and also because there was so much variability over that age that the charts became increasingly less accurate and useful.

    Wayne

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    Re: Re: airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

    Originally posted by Wayne Lim
    BTW, I didn't know they still had "percentile" charts for children over the age of five. I was told by my pediatrician that a lot of it was due to the fact that kids older than that could understand and might have issues dealing with something they could not control (their height and weight) and also because there was so much variability over that age that the charts became increasingly less accurate and useful.
    If there were no such statistics, then how could NHTSA use "age 12" with any belief that it had some value? Here are the charts - they include height-to-age as well as weight-to-age.

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/...cal_charts.htm

    They go up to year 20.

    By the way, I can assure you that there are millions of dollars being poured into the study of the size and shape of young people, both from industry and from government. I searched for anthropometry and received a huge number of hits - from safety folks, human-factors people, toy companies, clothing manufacturers, etc. Check out this fascinating website: http://ovrt.nist.gov/projects/anthrokids/77mWSSSM.htm

  5. #4
    Wayne Lim
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    Re: Re: Re: airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

    Originally posted by donlibes
    If there were no such statistics, then how could NHTSA use "age 12" with any belief that it had some value? Here are the charts - they include height-to-age as well as weight-to-age.

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/...cal_charts.htm

    They go up to year 20.

    By the way, I can assure you that there are millions of dollars being poured into the study of the size and shape of young people, both from industry and from government. I searched for anthropometry and received a huge number of hits - from safety folks, human-factors people, toy companies, clothing manufacturers, etc. Check out this fascinating website: http://ovrt.nist.gov/projects/anthrokids/77mWSSSM.htm
    Thanks for that! I guess I should have known that if there's a buck to be made, there would be tons of research on it.

    My kids had been asking about how they compare to average kids their age, and I guess I now know. It doesn't help my side of the argument that they should sit in the middle seat.

    My son: 75th percentile height, 92nd percentile weight.
    My daughter: 55th percentile height, 35th percentile weight.

    I guess it's better they're the way they are rather than the other way around.

    So, what's your feeling? Are you going to let your daughter sit in the front seat?

    Wayne

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    Registered User shellebelle's Avatar
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    Ouch. I'm in the 20th percentile for height.

    The airbag issue has always concerned me. I have to sit so far forward in the Ody that if I slam on the brakes my knees hit the panel (and I do have my seatbelt on correctly). Luckily I don't drive it often.

    Michelle

  7. #6
    Wayne Lim
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    Originally posted by shellebelle
    Ouch. I'm in the 20th percentile for height.

    The airbag issue has always concerned me. I have to sit so far forward in the Ody that if I slam on the brakes my knees hit the panel (and I do have my seatbelt on correctly). Luckily I don't drive it often.

    Michelle
    When I showed these to my wife, she kind of made a sour face. She tells me she's both 30th percentile in height and weight, while I'm 80th percentile height and 90th percentile in weight (sounds like my son).

    I dragged her into the garage and made her sit in the Odyssey, which she had just driven and was adjusted for her without any knowledge of how far she back she should be sitting. She has 11-12 inches from the steering wheel to her body and sits relatively far back so I think she's okay. A few inches shorter and she'd be right at the 10" safety margin.

    Wayne

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: airbags - appropriate age/height cutoff?

    Originally posted by Wayne Lim
    So, what's your feeling? Are you going to let your daughter sit in the front seat?
    I haven't made a decision yet. I sent an email to NHTSA with my question. I'll let you know if they respond.

    As a workaround, I've also considered installing a bypass switch to defeat the airbag. The NHTSA says that you can do this for a variety of reasons such as carpooling where you have to put a kid in the front.

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    Originally posted by shellebelle
    Ouch. I'm in the 20th percentile for height.
    Are you saying 20th percentile according to the line for 12-year olds? Because the line for 12 year olds is what I'm trying to use to interpret the NHTSA statement. I realize you're not a 12-year old. My daughter is not a 12 year old either but I was trying to avoid further confusion in my question.

  10. #9
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    I used the line for 19 year olds.

  11. #10
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    Airbags-

    A couple quick comments-

    Kids 12 and under are safest in back based on statistics.


    According to the Centers for Disease Control (who do the injury, fatality and growth statistics):

    "All children ages 12 years and younger should ride in the back seat. This eliminates the injury risk of deployed front passenger-side airbags and places children in the safest part of the vehicle in the event of a crash. Riding in the back seat is associated with a 46% reduction in the risk of fatal injury in cars with a front passenger-side airbag and at least a 30% reduction in the risk of fatal injury in cars with no front passenger-side airbag (Braver 1998). "


    At a recent conference, the reasoning for the 12-year limit was due to the number of airbag and dash related fatalities at each age. By 11-12 years, the number has dropped sharply. Height, weight and other issues are probably more relevant, but much harder to convey to the general public.

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    Re: Airbags-

    Originally posted by caviller
    Height, weight and other issues are probably more relevant, but much harder to convey to the general public.
    I don't see why you say height/weight limits are harder to convey than age. In fact, NHTSA uses all of age/height/weight in explaining whether children should be in child safety seats. You haven't given a good explanation for why NHTSA doesn't do the same thing for the front/back seat question.

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    Re: Re: Airbags-

    Originally posted by donlibes
    I don't see why you say height/weight limits are harder to convey than age. In fact, NHTSA uses all of age/height/weight in explaining whether children should be in child safety seats. You haven't given a good explanation for why NHTSA doesn't do the same thing for the front/back seat question.
    You don't have to like the explanation, but it is what it is. The simpler the message, the more likely people are to remember it. Since kids over 12 are much less likely to be fatally injured in the front seat, they selected that as the simplest yardstick. Is that the best yardstick? Maybe not. If you feel it needs a change, you can petition the NHTSA to update it based on your criteria.

    Also, limits change over time. Booster recommendations often included a weight limit. Today, weight is not considered a major factor. The "simplified" government message is 8 years unless the child is already 4'9" tall. Yes, it does include a whopping two parameters including age and height. On the other hand, the "best" message has an unbelievable five steps to determine if the vehicle seatbelt fits the child properly ( http://www.carseat.org/Boosters/630.htm ). Since kids and vehicles vary, this is the preferred way to see if a child is ready to move out of a booster. It does take a little more education than a simple age limit.

    Unfortunately, tests evaluating airbag and front seat compatibility are not as easy as judging the proper fit of a seatbelt. I have never seen such an airbag evaluation for children.

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    Re: Re: Re: Airbags-

    Originally posted by caviller
    You don't have to like the explanation, but it is what it is. The simpler the message, the more likely people are to remember it. Since kids over 12 are much less likely to be fatally injured in the front seat, they selected that as the simplest yardstick. Is that the best yardstick? Maybe not. If you feel it needs a change, you can petition the NHTSA to update it based on your criteria.
    I'm not going to argue with you on the government's communication deficiencies.

    However, it's not clear whether you are saying that government did a statistical analysis of injuries purely by age OR they did a statistical analysis of all factors and chose to boil it down to the simple metric of age for their public statement. Do you know?

    To put it another way, how do you feel about a 13-year old riding in the front seat who measures at the 25th percentile by height/weight? 50th percentile? 10th percentile? At what percentile is it ok?

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    I do not know for certain. I inferred from the talk that it was simply by age.

    Keep in mind that maturity is a big factor for seatbelt use. If a child is correctly wearing their seatbelt, the risk from an airbag is reduced. Many kids are leaning forward, to the side, put the belt under their arm or behind their back. Any of these things can greatly reduce the protection from the seatbelt, and increase the risk to a child from an airbag.

    The best answer for your question is that it's always safer to ride in back. Sometime around 12 years old, the risks for kids in front drops quite a bit overall. This risk is likely related to age, height, weight, maturity and vehicle factors.

    As a technician, we are sometimes faced with a choice of which child goes in front because there are not enough seats in back. In one scenario, we often prefer to put a 3 or 4 year old riding in a 5 point harness to sit in front, rather than a 10 year old in a booster. We make sure the seat is moved all the way back. That is because the harness seat will tend to keep the child from being out of position better, and therefore less risk from an airbag or hard dash. This is taught in our standardized (NHTSA) training class, though I do not know the statistics behind it.

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    Originally posted by caviller
    As a technician, we are sometimes faced with a choice of ....
    Ok, thanks for the insights. At this point, I'm coming back to the idea of installing a bypass switch for the front passenger-side airbag.

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