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Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook


Nov. 2, 1999

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
on NHTSA?s Proposed Supplemental Air Bag Rule

This supplemental proposal, while representing an improvement over current air bag rules, falls short of providing the margin of safety that American families expect and deserve.

The good news is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is terminating the useless sled test promoted by the auto manufacturers since 1996. Also, we are grateful that the agency has kept its original phase-in schedule and that it has proposed to use more stringent neck injury criteria in crash tests.

However, we are disappointed that the agency is considering reducing the speed from 30 miles per hour to as low as 25 miles per hour in barrier crash tests that use unbelted dummies, as requested by manufacturers. This change could reduce the effectiveness of air bags in the worst crashes, particularly for people not wearing belts, such as many teenagers. This is vital because half of the people killed in auto crashes are unbelted.

NHTSA should not accept the false claims of automakers that they don?t have the technology or ingenuity to design air bag systems that fully protect unbelted occupants in high-speed crashes and at the same time don?t endanger small occupants by deploying too forcefully in minor crashes.

This is simply not true, as NHTSA crash tests show. The stellar safety record of many well-designed air bag systems belies this premise. For years, responsible manufacturers have employed safety features that provide full protection in some of the most horrific frontal crashes with only minimal risk of injury to occupants in minor collisions. These features include variable-inflation forces based on crash severity, higher thresholds for deployment and laterally biased inflation.

The manufacturers like to boast about their technological prowess in their advertising but cry impossibility to government regulators.

NHTSA should not abandon the central purpose of air bags: protecting occupants in the worst frontal crashes. This can be done with existing technology without endangering children and small adults.