Saturday, January 14, 2006

The bigger they come, the harder they roll

Many people who value the environmen are also worried about their families. They know SUVs are bad for the former but believe they are good for the latter. They buy SUVs for their family's safety, because it is self-evident that when two cars collide, you are better off in the bigger one.

Apparently not. Because SUVs are more likely to roll over. A paper just published in Pediatrics (Daly L et al. Risk of injury to child passengers in sport utility vehicles. Pediatrics. 2006; 117(1):1-14.) and reviewed at medpagetoday, doctors looked at almost 4000 children involved in car crashes from 2000 to 2003, using an insurance company databank. 38% of the children were in SUVs, 62% in sedans of various sizes. All were model years 1998 or newer. The results are quite interesting.

The big winners were kids properly belted in. The odds ratios for age appropriate seatbelt use (estimates of the relative risk), after adjustment for appropriate covariates, was 0.25 (95% Confidence Interval .2 - .5), i.e., if they were belted in they were one quarter as likely to be injured. But those in the front seat were more likely to be injured (OR = 2.1, 1.33 - 3.2) than if they sat elsewhere. If the passenger side airbag went off with the child sitting in the front seat, the OR was 4.7 (2.4 - 9.4). The lesson here is pretty clear. Your kids should wear a seat belt in any kind of car and they shouldn't be sitting in the front seat if they are younger than 13.

These risk factors are independent of car type. If the car rolled over in either type, the OR was 3.3 (1.9 - 5.8), but rollovers occurred twice as frequently for SUVs. After adjusting for covariates, vehicle weight did not seem to play much of a part, if any.

The worst scenario, as might be expected, was rollover while unrestrained: OR = 25, CI 6.7 - 94. In other words, the child is twenty-five times as likely (technically has 25 times the odds) of being injured.

These data all make sense when you see them, but the surprise was the irrelevance of vehicle weight and size in keeping our children safe. Indeed, the increase in size was a safety detriment because of the tendency to increase rollover.

So use a sedan and belt your kids in in the back seat. Or, if you can, use public transport. Everyone will be better off. Including your children (and their children down the line).