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Friday, March 17, 2000

Safety belts needed with airbags, according to study

An eight-year study of spinal injuries in 7,170 individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents in Pennsylvania demonstrates that people should wear safety belts, even if the vehicle is equipped with airbags.

Crash victims protected by only an air bag, only a seat belt or not using a protective device had greater odds of sustaining a spinal injury than victims protected by an air bag and a seat belt.

The study, presented Wednesday in scientific paper 1, showed crash victims protected only by air bags were 35 percent more likely to suffer spinal injuries than people who used both seat belts on air bags. Compared to people protected by both seat belts and air bags, those who used only seat belts only were 42 percent more likely suffer spinal injuries and those who used no protective device were 37 percent more likely to suffer spinal injuries..

The mean injury severity score (ISS) was significantly greater in the air bag only, compared to the other three groups. The researchers said this may not be a true representation of injury severity in the group. They said the finding might be the result of having a small number of patients in the air bag only group-110. The data from 26 accredited trauma centers in Pennsylvania was collected from 1990 to 1997. Air bags were mandated in1987; in 1997, the majority of vehicles on the road in Pennsylvania were not equipped with air bags. The researchers also suggested that the high injury severity score might be the result of limitations of the ISS.

The study found that the use of seat belts appears to have the most dramatic effect on lowering injury severity. Individuals protected only by air bags and those who had no protective devices, on average, spent more time in the hospital or intensive care unit than those who wore seat belts.

The distribution of spinal injuries by region of the spine was 36 percent to 38 percent for cervical injuuries; 12 percent to 17 percent for thoracic injuries; 17 percent to 21 percent for lumbar injuries; 15 percent to 18 percent for sacral injruies; and 10 percent to 16 percent for multiple level spinal injuries. No variation was found by type of protective device.

The data on spinal injuries from motor vehicle accidents was obtained from the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Mechanicsburg, Pa. which maintains a data base of information from 26 trauma centers. The data included records on 4,636 patients who did not use a protective device at the time of the accident, 2,286 patients who used only a seat belt, 138 patients protected by a seat belt and an air bag and 110 patients protected only by air bags.

Co-authors of the study, all of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, are Michael A. Catino, MD resident in orthopaedics; Molly T. Vogt, PhD, associate professor of orthopaedics; and William F. Donaldson III, MD, associate professor.

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Last modified 23/February/2000 by IS