Cervical spine injuries associated with the incorrect use of airbags in motor vehicle collisions

William F Donaldson, Stephen E Hanks, Ahmad Nassr, Molly T Vogt, Joon Y Lee
Spine 2008 March 15, 33 (6): 631-4

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective database review and analysis.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to determine the rate of cervical spine injuries with correct and incorrect use of front driver and passenger-side airbags. Summary of Background Data. Although there are abundant literature showing reduced injury severity and fatalities from seatbelts and airbags, no recent studies have delineated the affect of incorrect use of airbags in cervical spine injuries.

METHODS: The database from the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation was searched for drivers and front-seat passenger injuries from 1990 to 2002. The resulting records were then grouped into those using both seatbelt and the airbag, airbag-only, seatbelt-only, and no restraints. The data were then analyzed for frequency of cervical spine fractures with or without spinal cord injury and injury severity indexes.

RESULTS: The drivers using the airbag-only had significantly higher rate (54.1%) of cervical fractures than those using both airbag and a seatbelt (42.1%). Overall, drivers using the airbag-alone were 1.7 times more likely to suffer a cervical spine fracture than those using both protective devices. Likewise, passengers using the airbag-alone were 6.7 times more likely to suffer from a cervical spine fracture with spinal cord injury than those using both protective devices. In addition, the injury severity indexes (Glasgow coma scale, Injury Severity Score, Intensive Care Unit stays, and Total Hospital days) were significantly worse in patients who used an airbag-only.

CONCLUSION: Airbag use without the concomitant use of a seatbelt is associated with a higher incidence of cervical spine fractures with or without spinal cord injuries. Airbag misuse is also associated with higher Injury Severity Score, lower Glasgow coma scale, and longer intensive care unit and total hospital stays, indicating that these patients suffer worse injury than those who use the airbag properly.

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