Airbags that drop from the roof or inflate from the seat to provide head protection in serious side crashes significantly reduce deaths, especially when cars are struck by bigger sport utilities and pickups, according to findings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.Building on previous research, the study could pressure the auto industry and the government to accelerate efforts to incorporate head protection in more vehicles, according to Reuters
.The auto industry agreed three years ago to equip all vehicles with side airbags with head protection as a standard feature by 2009. Federal safety regulators proposed in 2004 that automakers provide head protection but did not mandate a technology, Reuters
reports.Safety advocates have urged regulators and the industry to make the technology standard as soon as possible, saying as many as 2,000 lives per year could be saved. In 2004, 2.7 million passenger vehicles were involved in side-impact crashes, according to police reports cited by the researchers. More than 9,000 people were killed.Researchers concluded side airbags that protect the torso reduced deaths by 26 percent in side-impact crashes. The same study also found that deaths declined by an estimated 37 percent when the vehicle was also equipped with side airbags that protect the head.Side airbags deploy from the ceiling, the seat or the door. The technology is relatively new and is included in about 80 percent of new cars and sport utilities as standard or optional equipment. Fewer than half of all pickups have the feature.