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Warnings on Interaction Between Air Bags and Rear-Facing Child Restraints

Air bags and child safety seats are effective in preventing deaths and serious injuries from motor-vehicle crashes (1,2), and child safety seats are required by law in all 50 states. However, laboratory crash test data indicate a potential for injury if a child is placed in a rear-facing restraint in the front seat of any vehicle equipped with a passenger-side air bag. Although no children have been injured in this way, parents should not use a rear-facing restraint in this manner.

In a crash, a rear-facing child restraint with its back close to the instrument panel could be struck by the rapidly inflating air bag, and a child in the restraint could be seriously injured (Figures 1A and 1B). Rear-facing child restraints must be used in the rear seat of vehicles with passenger-side air bags. To be properly protected, infants must ride in a rear-facing child restraint until they weigh 20 pounds or are approximately 1 year of age. Those vehicles with passenger-side air bags and without back seats are therefore not suitable for rear-facing child restraints. This consideration should be addressed when a family car is purchased or rented.

Parents should always read and follow the child restraint instructions and the vehicle owner's manual for specific directions on where and how to install a particular child restraint in a particular vehicle. Although all children should travel in the back seat of vehicles, forward-facing child restraints may be used in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with a passenger-side air bag if the child's age and weight meet the restraint manufacturer's requirements; the vehicle seat should be moved as far back as possible so the child is positioned similar to a restrained adult.

Industry is pursuing technologic solutions to reduce the compatibility problem. Government, industry, and professional organizations are developing public information strategies to advise the public of the necessary precautions.

Reported by: American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Child Restraint and Air Bag Interaction Task Force, Society of Automotive Engineers. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.


  1. Kahane CJ. Evaluation of the effectiveness of occupant protection: federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 -- interim report. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, June 1992; report no. DOT-HS-807-843.

  2. Kahane CJ. An evaluation of child passenger safety: the effectiveness and benefits of safety seats. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1986; report no. DOT-HS-806-890.

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