April 28, 2000
White House Decision to Lower Air Bag Safety Standard Will Harm Public
Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President
The White House Office of Management and Budget has overruled the U.S. Department of Transportation s proposal to require a 30 mph unbelted crash test for air bags following four years at 25 mph, and has instead adopted the auto industry s suggestion for a far less rigorous, permanent 25 mph standard. The rule is expected to be released next week.
The auto industry lobbied strenuously for a weak air bag standard to avoid the cost of redesigning its dangerous SUVs and light trucks. This decision rewards an industry that refused to install available safety systems in the 1990s and instead sold cut-rate air bags that have killed 158 innocent Americans.
The decision will give us yesterday’s air bags in the new millennium rather than advanced air bags as Congress mandated. This is engineering malpractice by White House bureaucrats.
There is no lack of technological know-how to produce advanced air bags, but this backwards decision in the White House will crush technological innovation, and consumers will be the losers. GM told the Department of Transportation in 1984 that it could pass a 25 mph crash test with “friendly interiors” and no air bags.
This decision means 200 to 400 more people will die annually in high-speed crashes, according to DOT estimates, and many more will be seriously injured. Caving in to the auto industry on a key public health and safety standard is more insidious than selling the Lincoln bedroom.
Automobiles have been tested for safety using a 30 mph crash test for most of the past three decades. And there are currently 80 million cars on the road with air bags that meet the 30 mph test. If those cars are unsafe, as the auto industry suggests, they should be recalled immediately.