The Washington Times - February 26, 2009, 10:25AM

When seatbelts and airbags are used together, victims of motor-vehicle accidents suffer spine fractures at a 33 percent lower rate than those using neither device, a recent study has shown. And use of the two restraints in combination cuts the risk of suffering severe spine fracture by 59 percent.

In addition, using seatbelts or airbags separately raises the spine-fracture incidence slightly.


The study, which was reported in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, was performed using data from 20,276 vehicle-crash victims, including drivers and front-seat passengers age 16 and above, who were released from the hospital in Wisconsin from 1994 through 2002.

“Given the significant protective effects of both seatbelt and airbag use against spine fractures, resources should continue to be dedicated toward increasing their use to mitigate the effects of motor vehicle crashes,” said the researchers, led by Marjorie Wang, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.

The team used information from Wisconsin’s Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System, a database that links vehicle-crash police records with facts relating to hospital discharges. Of the total number of hospitalized crash victims, 12.5 percent had a spine fracture, including 1,067 cervical fractures, 565 thoracic fractures, and 1,034 lumbosacral fractures.

Alarmingly, it was found that only 14 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers who crashed in Wisconsin were protected by a seatbelt-and-airbag combination.

Regarding limitations of their study, the researchers noted that only accidents reported to police were included, passengers younger than 16 were excluded, crash victims who were not hospitalized weren’t included, fractures might have been diagnosed differently from one hospital to the next, specific information on fracture severity was unavailable, and passengers may have over-reported seatbelt use to police officers.

In 2007, motor-vehicle accidents in the United States totaled more than 6 million. Among these, almost 2.5 million victims were injured, and more than 41,000 were killed.

“Motor-vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injury in the United States for people age 65 and younger, and spine fractures are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality,” Wang commented in a news release.

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