BACKGROUND: Side air bags (SABs) have been introduced in an attempt to reduce the risk of injury in near-side-impact motor vehicle collisions (MVCs). The impact of SABs on MVC-related mortality and morbidity has yet to be evaluated with a large population-based study. The objective of this study was to assess the effectiveness of SABs in reducing the risk of injury or death in near-side-impact MVCs. METHODS: A retrospective study investigated outboard front seat occupants involved in police-reported, near-side-impact MVCs using data from the General Estimates System (1997-2000). The risk of MVC-related nonfatal and fatal injury for occupants of vehicles with and without SABs was compared. RESULTS: Front seat occupants of vehicles with SABs had a risk of injury similar to that of occupants of vehicles without SABs (risk ratio [RR], 0.96; 95% CI confidence interval [CI], 0.79-1.15). Adjustment for the potentially confounding effects of age, gender, seat belt use, seating position, damage severity and location, and vehicle body type did not meaningfully affect the association (RR, 0.90; 95% CICI, 0.76-1.08). CONCLUSIONS: There is no association between the availability of SABs and overall injury risk in near-side-impact MVCs. Future research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of SABs in preventing the injuries for which they were specifically designed.