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Are we safer in car crashes with air bags or without them?

There aren't too many vehicles on the road today in Texas that don't have air bags for protection. There's a reason for that. They appear to work to save lives.

From a historical perspective, air bags have only been around for a few decades. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, they first broke on the automotive scene in the 1980s. They only became standard equipment on cars and trucks in the 1990s.

Despite that, to date, NHTSA estimates that air bags in their various forms -- first front and now side bags as well -- are credited with some 40,000 lives saved in the United States. In the eyes of safety officials, that's evidence that air bags are a good thing.

At the same time, NHTSA is quick to point out that air bags are merely a "supplemental restraint system." They are a backup to seat belts. It's the combination of the devices that work best to reduce the number of motor vehicle accident fatalities. If a vehicle isn't equipped with them or they aren't used, accidents resulting in injury or death are more likely.

Police in League City suggest the lack of air bags was a contributing factor in the death of a 20-year-old man just over a week ago. They say his 1970 Volkswagen Beetle didn't have supplemental restraints when a pickup truck failed to yield the right of way and ran into him. The Beetle then struck another car that was stopped at the intersection.

The Volkswagen driver was not ejected from the vehicle, perhaps because he was wearing a seat belt. But he was declared dead at the scene. No one else was injured in the crash.

Authorities have cited the pickup driver for not yielding as he should have. From a legal perspective, that ticket might be used as evidence by the victim's family to hold the at-fault driver accountable for wrongful death.

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