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EVEN WITH AIR BAGS, BUCKLE UP

All this talk about automobile air bags -- which will appear in more and more new cars in the coming years -- may lead you to believe that the days of buckling yourself in with a seat belt are almost over. Not so.

According to a study by Leonard Evans of General Motors Research Laboratories, published recently in Accident Analysis & Prevention, you need both forms of restraints. Evans estimates that lap/shoulder belts are 42 percent effective in reducing driver fatalities; add an air bag and you gain another 6 percent. The air bag alone reduces driver fatalities by only 18 percent, he said.

What drivers and passengers should keep in mind, notes the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter, is that each type of restraint has advantages and disadvantages. Air bags, for instance, are automatic and are better at protecting the abdomen and chest area, particularly in frontal or near-frontal crashes. Seat belts, in contrast, are more effective than air bags in side and rear-end crashes.

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