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Safety Advocates Call for Recall of Chrysler Minivan Passenger Air Bags

May 18, 1999

Safety Advocates Call for Recall of Chrysler Minivan Passenger Air Bags

Consumer Groups Urge NHTSA to Disclose Data on All Air Bag Designs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Passenger-side air bags in Chrysler minivans are so dangerous they should be immediately recalled, said auto safety groups today at a Washington, D.C., news conference. The safety advocates also called on the government to release information on the air bag designs showing which vehicles have the safest technology.

“Today, all across America, families are purchasing new cars without knowing if the model they re buying has had no passenger deaths from air bags, or a dozen or more,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Most people are not equipped with the knowledge they need to make an informed, safe decision, a decision that could one day mean the difference between life and death for themselves or a loved one. A year and a half ago, we asked NHTSA to release to the public information on the performance of air bag by make and model. We are still waiting for action and considering litigation.”

Recent crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the 1997 Chrysler minivan showed deadly results. In real life, about 20 children, a third of whom were wearing lap and shoulder belts, have been killed or seriously injured by passenger-side air bags in the minivans.

“In November 1996 the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) called on NHTSA to launch a defect investigation into Chrysler minivan air bags, and to set a 12-mph threshold below which an air bag cannot trigger unless the manufacturer establishes it will not injure an out-of-position occupant,” said Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director of CAS. “NHTSA turned us down. Now their own tests show we were right.”

In the early 1980s, independent safety experts commissioned by the government recommended certain air bag designs to manufacturers. They suggested dual-inflation systems (which inflate with less force in low-speed crashes and more in high-speed); systems mounted atop dashboards rather than in the front (so the air bag would climb up the windshield and not strike passengers with its full force); and effectively folded bags. Many manufacturers ignored these recommendations and instead installed less safe designs, which have proved deadly.

“Chrysler designed its air bags for its family-style minivans without conducting a single crash test with the child dummy or a dummy of any size in a forward leaning position,” said Rob Sanders, Director of Parents for Safer Air Bags. “The oversight led to systems that have proved to be terribly dangerous. The systems should be recalled for retrofits of safer systems.” Rob Sanders daughter Alison was killed by an air bag in a Chrysler minivan in October 1995.

The safety groups are urging NHTSA to recall the Chrysler minivans so the poor air bag designs can be made safer.