The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Special Crash Investigations database contains twelve completed cases of child fatalities in rearward facing child seats caused by deploying air bags. Three of these are now available for examination. An additional two cases were investigated by the William Lehman Injury Research Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine. These five cases are examined to evaluate crash environment, injury mechanisms, and circumstances which caused the child to be in front of the passenger side air bag
Four of the cases were crashes with impacts with the side of other cars with crash severities less than 15 mph. The predominate injury mechanism was brain and skull injury from a blow transmitted to the rear of the head through the child seat back. In one case, the force to the head was transmitted downward, directly from air bag contact. In this case, the infant showed no sign of injury at the scene, and there was no damage or displacement of the rearward facing child seat. The child died 24 hours later of brain injuries.
Examination of the circumstances surrounding the crashes indicates than many opportunities were missed for providing warning of the danger of air bag injuries to infants in rear facing child safety seats. Inaccurate, incomplete, and inadequate warnings existed regarding the use of rearward facing child safety seats during the time period in which the crashes in this investigation occurred (1995-1996).