STATEMENT OF PUBLIC CITIZEN PRESIDENT JOAN CLAYBROOK ON RECALL OF CHRYSLER MINIVAN PASSENGER AIR BAGS

?May 18, 1999

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC CITIZEN PRESIDENT JOAN CLAYBROOK ON RECALL OF CHRYSLER MINIVAN PASSENGER AIR BAGS

Two years ago, a study by Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety identified some air bag designs as far safer than others. We said that top-mounted air bags that deployed vertically and initially crawled up the windshield had a superior safety record than those which punched out horizontally in the face of the passenger.

A year and a half ago, Public Citizen and other safety groups called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an arm of the U.S. DOT, to tell consumers which air bag designs performed the best.

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. 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.

We asked the government to force automakers to divulge important information about air bag safety, including the inflation rate, the threshold for inflation, excursion distance, type and location of the crash sensors, whether it deploys vertically or horizontally, and more.

Now, 18 months later, NHTSA has that information, but won?t tell us the results. We know that the horizontally deploying passenger air bags in Chrysler minivans have a lethal record of deployment, as this chart all too clearly shows. Recently, NHTSA was shocked by the deadly results in its own crash tests showing how poorly designed the passenger air bags are in the 1997 Chrysler minivan. These Chrysler minivan air bags ought to be recalled immediately and fixed to make them safe. That, at least, would get one hazard off the road.

But how many other poor air bag designs are out there, and which vehicles are they in?

The bottom line is, some air bag designs have never harmed anyone. Others, like in the Chrysler minivan, have killed or seriously injured about 20 children, a third of whom were wearing seat belts.

We have heard too many excuses from too many companies about why they have not designed safer air bags. The truth is that some manufacturers ignored safer design recommendations they were given by independent experts in the early 1980s, and children of the 90s are paying the price.

Now, at least, the government knows which companies have installed which air bags in which models, but it refuses to share that data with consumers.

What are we waiting for? The government has this life-saving information. The public is crying out for more information about what they?re buying and driving. Why is NHTSA stalling? The American people, and American children in particular, deserve an answer.

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