Side-impact air bags (SABs) are inflatable devices that are designed to help protect your head and/or chest in the event of a serious crash involving the side of your vehicle. There are three main types of SABs: chest (or torso) SABs, head SABs and head/chest combination (or "combo") SABs.
Chest (or torso) SABs are mounted in the side of the seat or in the door and are designed to help protect an adult's chest in a serious side-impact crash.
Head SABs are usually mounted in the roof rail above the side windows and are designed to help protect an adult's head in a side-impact crash. There are two types of head SABs: curtain SABs and tubular SABs. Typically, curtain SABs help protect both front and rear occupants in a side-impact crash; some may also provide protection from ejection if your car rolls over after being struck on the side.
(with a door-mounted chest SAB)
Head/chest combination ("combo") SABs are usually mounted in the side of the seat and are typically larger than chest (or torso) SABs. Combo SABs are designed to help protect both the head and chest of an adult.
Combination (or "combo") SAB
All photos courtesy of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Consult your owner's manual or vehicle manufacturer for specific information on your vehicle's side air bag system.
SABs inflate in a fraction of a second and are designed to help keep your head and/or chest from being hit by hard objects both inside and outside your vehicle in serious side-impact crashes. Sensors determine whether a crash is severe enough to inflate the SABs. Unlike frontal air bags, some of the side curtain air bags may stay inflated for several seconds during a crash for additional protection in the event of a rollover.
Yes, some vehicles are equipped with both front and side air bags. Frontal air bags have been standard equipment in all passenger cars since model year 1998 and all SUV's, pickups and vans since model year 1999. SABs are being offered as standard or optional equipment on many new passenger vehicles.
SABs can provide significant safety benefits to adults in side impact crashes. NHTSA estimates that if all the vehicles on U.S. roads were equipped with head protection SABs, 700 to 1,000 lives would be saved per year in side impact crashes. NHTSA also estimates that, in side-impact crashes involving at least one fatality, nearly 60 percent of those killed have suffered brain injuries.
Unlike front air bags, SABs are not required by NHTSA. Because they are not required safety equipment, the federal government does not mandate that vehicles be equipped with SABs. NHTSA has recently proposed an upgrade to the federal standard for side impact protection. The standard establishes occupant protection performance requirements, but does not mandate particular technologies to meet those requirements. Manufacturers may meet this upgraded rule with various types of innovative head, chest, and pelvis protection systems, such as SABs.
A group of experts representing the automotive and insurance industries and known as the Technical Working Group (TWG) has developed voluntary SAB testing procedures to minimize the potential risk of SAB-related injuries for occupants, especially children, who are seated very close to a deploying SAB (called "out-of-position").
Manufacturers now report to the government if the SABs in a given vehicle model have met the voluntary TWG out-of-position testing procedures. NHTSA provides this information to consumers in our "Buying a Safer Car" brochure and at our www.safercar.gov Website. Vehicles whose SABs meet all the voluntary guidelines are designated with an "M" for Meets requirement in the column labeled "SAB Out of Position Testing" in the Available Features chart for each vehicle at www.safercar.gov. If your vehicle does not have an "M," you should check your owner's manual or contact the vehicle manufacturer for their recommendation on where your child should be seated in that vehicle.
Although out-of-position testing procedures are very good at identifying "aggressive" SABs and are intended to minimize risks to children and small adults seated next to them, they are not intended to replicate all possible scenarios.
Prior to the development of the recommended TWG performance guidelines for SABs (see #6 above), many chest (torso) and head/chest combination (combo) SABs showed a potential for serious or fatal injury to children seated very close to the deployment of the bag. However, very few cars sold in the U.S. have these types of SABs in the rear seating positions. The first head SABs were introduced in model year 1998, but did not become widely available until recently. NHTSA has not seen any indication that current roof-mounted head SABs pose a risk to children. Many roof-mounted SABs now extend rearward to include the second and even the third row seating positions.
Vehicles that meet the voluntary TWG guidelines will have an "M" for Meets requirement in the column labeled "SAB Out of Position Testing" in the Available Features chart of each vehicle's page at www.safercar.gov. If your vehicle does not have an "M," you should check your owner's manual or contact the vehicle manufacturer to find out whether your car's SABs are safe for children.
The best way to find out what type of SAB your vehicle has is to look in your owner's manual or to check with your dealer.
This information also is available at www.safercar.gov by viewing an individual vehicle's Available Features chart.
All air bags (frontal or side) are supplemental safety devices and are intended to work best in combination with safety belts. Therefore, even with SABs that meet TWG testing procedures (see #6 above), make sure that:
NHTSA has not seen any indication of risks to children from current roof-mounted head SABs.
NHTSA crash investigators actively seek out cases where SABs have deployed in crashes. So far, 92 cases have been investigated; of these only 6 involve children. There have been no moderate or serious injuries to children from SAB deployments, and only one minor injury - a skin laceration from an SAB cover. This small number of cases involves a limited number of vehicles with SABs and may not be representative of the variety of SAB systems currently available. NHTSA continues to closely monitor the real world performance of SABs involving children and adults.
Yes. In 1999, prior to the establishment of the TWG voluntary guidelines, NHTSA issued a Consumer Advisory warning consumers not to seat children next to activated SABs. At that time nearly all of the SABs in the rear seat were chest (torso) or head/chest combination SABs. However, the information provided in this Web page supercedes the 1999 Consumer Advisory and reflects the agency's most current understanding regarding the protection provided by SABs and any potential risk to children seated near them. NHTSA is monitoring the new SAB technologies and will continue to provide consumers with additional updates as more information becomes available.
Consult your owner's manual or call your vehicle manufacturer for their recommendation on where your child should be seated in your vehicle.
Contact your vehicle manufacturer using the information below:
Aston Martin: 949-349-6260
Ford: 800-392-FORD (800-392-3673)
General Motors: 800-462-8782
Infiniti: 800-NISSAN1 (800-647-7261)
Jaguar: 800-4JAGUAR (800-452-4827)
Kia: 800-333-4kia (800-333-4542)
Land Rover: 800-637-6837
Mini: 800-ASK-MINI (800-275-6464)
Nissan: 800-NISSAN1 (800-647-7261) /
Subaru: 1-800-SUBARU-3 (1-800-782-2783) /