April 24, 2003
Replacing Air Bags in 1994, Early 1995 Nissan Altimas Will Protect Passengers, But Is Long Overdue
Statement by Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen
Today’s announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that Nissan will replace passenger-side air bags in the 1994 and early 1995 Altima is welcome news. The move will prevent passengers from being blinded when these poorly designed air bags literally punch them in the eye. This is the first air bag recall that NHTSA has ever negotiated. But we cannot lavish much praise on the automaker, because it should have taken this action a long time ago, as it has known about the danger for years, during which time a number of people were injured and blinded.
More than two years ago, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety called on the federal government to investigate severe eye injuries in these vehicles and require a recall. Air bags in the Altimas hit passengers’ faces while still inflating at about 160 mph, often causing permanent eye injuries from low-speed crashes that should not maim anyone.
Yet Nissan has quibbled about the sources of data that showed a pattern of injuries. It has pointed to irrelevant fatality data, and it has blamed injuries on passengers’ position or seat belt use. Nissan spent years doing everything in its power to deflect responsibility for an air bag that was robbing people of their sight. While Nissan dithered, consumers like Norma Brainerd of Portland, Oregon, and Kevin Nero of Newport News, Virginia, suffered in low-speed crashes that nonetheless severely and permanently damaged their eyesight.
Almost 200,000 of these vehicles are still on the road, so passengers will be much safer once the air bags are replaced. It is critical that consumers are made aware of the severity of the problem and that they go to their dealers immediately to have the air bags replaced so that no one is left at risk.
Public Citizen compliments Dateline NBC for its strong investigative story that brought this issue to light, and Oregon attorney Larry Baron, who assisted NHTSA with important documentation of the problem.
* Joan Claybrook was administrator of NHTSA from 1977-1981.