Statement on NHTSA’s AirBag Rule

Nov. 18, 1997

Statement on NHTSA’s AirBag Rule


Joan Claybrook

President, Public Citizen

Air bags are one of the most important safety features inautomobiles. They have saved at least 2,600 lives and preventedcountless serious head and chest injuries. However, we are heretoday because some manufacturers chose to install air bags withserious design flaws, resulting in the tragic deaths of childrenand small adults in low speed crashes.

The decision announced today by the Department ofTransportation, while not perfect, allows owners of cars withflawed air bags to protect those who might be at risk because ofcertain physical factors beyond their control. If this saves asingle life, then it is a good decision. But on-off switches arenot the answer for the vast majority of people. They should beused sparingly. The truth is: Most drivers will be much saferwith their seat belts buckled and their air bags left ON. Andsmall children are always safer buckled up in the back seat.

Because of this ruling, consumers who qualify for on-offswitches now face a critical choice. Unfortunately, most peopleare not equipped with the knowledge or the information they needto make an informed decision, a decision that could one day meanthe difference between life and death for themselves or a lovedone. The bottom line is, some air bag designs have never harmedanyone. It would be a tragedy for someone with a perfectly safeair bag to turn it off only to need it in a crash later on. Thistype of tragedy can be prevented, but only by giving consumersthe tools they need to make the right choice.

We believe manufacturers should be required to provide designand performance information to the consumer. That is why PublicCitizen today is petitioning the National Highway Traffic SafetyAdministration to require manufacturers to divulge this crucialinformation in a standardized format that is readily availablewhen consumers purchase a new or used automobile.

For instance, the consumer should have the right to knowwhether a car’s air bag deploys vertically or deployshorizontally. The consumer should know whether the rate ofinflation is the same in all crashes, or whether it variesdepending on the severity of the crash. The consumer should knowthe force of the air bag inflation and the excursion distance ofeach air bag. The consumer should know the threshold forinflation — does it inflate in an 8-mile-per-hour crash or a12-mile-per-hour crash, for example.

Finally, the consumer should have the right to know how manypeople have been killed and if possible an estimate of how manyhave been saved by air bags in a particular make and model. Onlythen can consumers make wise, life-saving choices.

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