Public Citizen has promoted the use and development of air bags for many years. Joan Claybrook issued the first standards requiring passive restraints in vehicles in 1984, during her term as the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Airbags have reduced the risk of death in a frontal collision by 30 percent, saving more than 10,271 lives as of January 2003. Public Citizen advocates for better airbag safety standards, including the addition of side-impact and window-curtain airbags to all vehicles.
Unfortunately, airbags are no panacea: due to the lack of comprehensive safety standards and cut-rate manufacturing decisions, poorly designed airbags continue to pose dangers for vehicle occupants, both when they deploy too forcefully or when they fail to deploy in crashes. Small-statured people and children are particularly at risk from airbags that are designed primarily to protect adult men. (Click here to learn how small-statured people can reduce the risk of air bag-deployment injuries.) Public Citizen continues to pressure auto manufacturers to create safer airbags, particularly because poorly designed airbags have killed more than 200 people, including 129 children.
In 2002 Public Citizen and other safety groups challenged the Department of Transportation's decision to lower the standards of protection that airbags must satisfy for unbelted crash tests (advanced airbags). Links to the litigation documents are available below: