HC Deb 19 November 1997 vol 301 cc196-7W
Mr. McNulty

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what research he has(a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the safety of car airbag systems.[16132]

Ms Glenda Jackson

We continue to collect detailed information on a sample of road accident injuries as part of the Department's research programme, and this allows us to monitor effects such as airbags in cars. To date, we are not aware of any cases of airbags having caused serious injuries in the UK.

In 1993 the Department commissioned TRL to investigate airbag effectiveness. This was largely a review of published research on both airbag testing and airbag performance in the field. By necessity, this review was mainly based on the experience in the USA where airbags, which are required by law, are far more prevalent than in Europe.

US airbags tend to be more aggressive than those in Europe, as the US seat belt wearing rate is low and airbags are designed to be the primary source of protection. TRL therefore also looked at the sample of accidents in the UK to establish the role which airbags had played. However, the number of accidents examined was small, and there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion on the efficacy of airbags in European cars. The results of this study were part of a wider European paper presented at the Enhanced Safety Vehicles conference in 1996. TRL also carried out some very limited laboratory testing to supplement the information already available for grossly out of position occupants where there is a considerable injury risk.

Overall, international research indicates that airbags reduce the risk of serious head and chest injuries for vehicle occupants and any adverse effects are minimised if the vehicle occupants use their seat belt correctly and sit as far from the airbag as is comfortably possible. In particular rear facing child restraints should never be used in a front facing passenger position where an airbag is fitted.