Airbags: An exploratory survey of public knowledge and attitudes

Toben F. Nelson, Dana Sussman, John D. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The present study examines public knowledge and opinion in the United States on issues related to airbag safety. Data were obtained through a national random digit-dial telephone survey of 1005 people living in the contiguous 48 United States. A majority of respondents (1) know that airbags can harm drivers seated too close to the steering wheel; (2) know that rear-facing infant seats should not be placed in the front seat of a car with passenger-side airbags; and (3) know that airbags are saving more lives of women drivers than are being lost. However, most respondents did not know that (1) airbags are killing more children than they are saving; (2) airbags can injure properly belted drivers; and (3) the majority of the lives saved by airbags have been among people who were not wearing safety belts. Knowledge of airbag risks to children and properly belted drivers was significantly associated with a less favorable attitude toward airbags, and with opposition toward the law mandating airbags on all new cars. Drivers of vehicles equipped with airbags held more favorable attitudes toward airbag technology. Further analysis suggests that as the public begins to understand the risks associated with airbags, the current high level of public support for the technology and the mandatory regulation may decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-379
Number of pages9
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1999


  • Airbags
  • Injury
  • Public opinion
  • Risk

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