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Gen3 Seat Belts Unlatch When Wearers Need Them Most, Should Be Recalled

March 13, 2003

Gen3 Seat Belts Unlatch When Wearers Need Them Most, Should Be Recalled

Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

About 16 million Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles are equipped with a seat belt that fails an auto industry standard for accidental release. In other words, it can pop open without the wearer intending it to be released. Tragically, this tends to happen when vehicles are involved in sudden stops, turns, collisions or rollovers – exactly when drivers and passengers need their seat belts the most.

This seat belt, known as the Gen3, should be recalled immediately. It is patently unsafe and jeopardizes the lives of millions of Americans. We know the Gen3 is unsafe because:

  1. In 1992, DaimlerChrysler stopped using a standard auto industry test for seat belt safety known as the 30 millimeter ball test when it developed the Gen3 buckle. In this test, a 30 millimeter metal ball, meant to replicate an elbow, is pressed against the release button. If the buckle releases, it has failed the test. The Gen3 fails this test every time.
  2. To date, 14 deaths – including three in Texas –and 19 serious injuries have been blamed on Gen3 unlatchings. All but one injury occurred in the United States; the remaining injury was in Canada.
  3. Nearly 140 reports have been gathered over the past year from consumers who reported unlatchings, some of them multiple unlatchings on multiple occasions. Many of these involved unlatchings around child and infant car seats.
  4. DaimlerChrysler, U.S. and Canadian crash tests show Gen3s unlatching.
  5. Court testimony from DaimlerChrysler officials confirm that after viewing crash tests they upgraded the buckles in two models, the Dodge Durango and Dodge Dakota, to safer Gen4s beginning with 1999 models. But no other models were included in the upgrade.

Consumers deserve better. How many others have been victims? Of the thousands of people estimated to die in U.S. auto crashes annually because they didn’t wear their seat belts, how many, in fact, had buckled up – only to have their buckles fail them?

DaimlerChrysler owners shouldn’t have to worry that their seat belts will pop open during a crash. They should have the peace of mind of knowing their seat belts are as safe as any others on the road.

If DaimlerChrysler wants to show it cares about its customers’ safety, the company should replace these defective belts immediately and refrain from installing them in any vehicles in the future.

Public Citizen joins victims, survivors and the Center for Auto Safety in urging DaimlerChrysler to voluntarily replace these unsafe seat belts.