A new study has unearthed compelling evidence that combination of air bags and seat belts affords the best protection against spine fractures sustained in motor vehicle crashes.
This research project examined the records of more than 20,000 crash victims aged 16 and older admitted to Wisconsin hospitals after car or truck crashes from 1994 to 2002.
In 2007, there were over six million motor vehicle accidents in the US. Nearly 2.5 million of those accident victims were injured and more than 41,000 lost their lives.
“Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injury (SCI) in the United States for people aged 65 and younger and spine fractures are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality,” said Marjorie C. Wang, of Medical College of Wisconsin and co-author of the study.
A spine fracture is a break in one or more of the bones of the spine (vertebrae in the back or neck). Spine fractures can lead to a complete SCI, which may result in some degree of paralysis or even death. Of the 2,530 patients with spine factures analyzed in this study, 64 died in hospital.
Wang and her team analyzed the data and correlated the incidence of spine fractures with air bag and seat belt usage. Of the 29,860 motor vehicle crash hospital admissions, a data group of 20,276 drivers and front seat passengers was analyzed.
This group met the following criteria: drivers or front seat passengers age 16 or older with complete air bag/seat belt data who were not ejected from the vehicle. Key research findings include:
–Use of a seat belt and an air bag together was associated with a decreased risk of a spine fracture, including more severe fractures.
— Only 14 percent of the drivers and front seat occupants involved in Wisconsin motor vehicle crashes between 1994 and 2002 were protected by the combination of air bags and seat belts, although this number increased from 1994 to 2002.
— An alarming 38 percent of these crash victims were not wearing seat belts.
— There were 2,530 spine fractures (12.5 percent) identified among the 20,276 hospital admissions: 1,067 cervical fractures, 565 thoracic fractures, and 1,034 lumbosacral fractures.
— Use of an air bag alone was associated with an increased risk of a severe thoracic spine fracture, said a Wisconsin release.
“I commend Dr. Wang and her group for performing this extensive, labour-intensive study of motor vehicle crash victims. This research offers an invaluable assessment of air bags and seat belts to safety measures that when used together show evidence of decreasing the risk of these traumatic and often devastating injuries,” said Charles H. Tator, a neurosurgeon at the University of Toronto.
These findings will appear in the February issue of Journal of Neurosurgery.