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  1. Ivan Barry Pless
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ivan Barry Pless, Retired, 434 Lansdowne, Westmount, Quebec, Canada H3Y2V2; barry.pless{at}mcgill.ca

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The air bag controversy explodes

Since their introduction, federal requirements for the use of air bags have been hotly debated. Now, reports of fatalities from air bag defects have heightened the debate. The latest defect involves the system's pyrotechnic inflator that detonates too violently, causing the metal container to rupture and shoot shards towards the occupant. This defect is now the focus of a massive recall and some lawsuits against the Japanese manufacturer. Not surprisingly, the five known incidents have attracted far more attention than the much larger number of deaths and injuries prevented when air bags function properly. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that the combination of seat belts and air bags reduces the risk of death by 61% in frontal crashes compared with a 50% risk reduction with seat belts alone. Comment: This again illustrates how often bad news is more newsworthy than good news.

Victims as allies

Two news reports about victims caught my attention. One described a man from Cape Breton (Canada) who was seriously injured after diving from rocks and hit river bottom. He is now a quadriplegic who has spent much of his life as an advocate for disabled people. Unfortunately, he also continues to indulge ‘his sense of adventure’ by being involved in several high-risk activities. The second report is from Shreveport (USA) where a man who crashed after drinking and without using a seat belt suffered a spinal cord injury, fractured ribs, collapsed lungs and a severe concussion. He has now been named as ThinkFirst's VIP of the Year (a Voice for Injury Prevention). His message is that people need to understand that such injuries ‘don't just happen to other people’. Unfortunately, “what I had to learn was nothing happens until it happens and then it can be too late..” Comment: It seems that the Canadian …

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