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J Trauma. 2002 Aug;53(2):309-12; discussion 313.

Seat belts are more effective than airbags in reducing thoracic aortic injury in frontal motor vehicle crashes.

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Department of Surgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee 53226, USA.



Airbags reduce the probability of death in frontal collisions, but the effect is small compared with seat belts. Little is known about the influence of seat belts and airbags on the incidence of thoracic aortic injury (TAI).


The National Automotive Sampling System database was queried for the years 1993 to 1998 to determine the impact of seat belts and airbags on the incidence of TAI in survivors of frontal motor vehicle crashes. Proportions were compared using the two-sample Z test.


Seat belts prevent TAI regardless of airbag deployment. The effect of airbags is limited to those wearing seat belts. In frontal collisions without seat belt use, airbag deployment does not alter TAI incidence.


Seat belts are considerably more effective in preventing TAI than airbags after frontal motor vehicle crashes. Prevention efforts should continue to emphasize the use of active restraints. Restraint use should be considered a risk factor in evaluating patients for potential TAI.

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