New Air Bag Petition: From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You the First Air Bag Mandate

New Air Bag Petition: From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You the First Air Bag Mandate

November 19, 1996

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Consumer Alert today denounced Public Citizen's new air bag petition as an elaborate attempt to cover-up that group's first-hand complicity in the current passive restraint fiasco.

"Public Citizen should realize that mandating air bags is not like a shooting a movie, with Take I, Take II, Take III. In reality, it's an intrusion into people's lives that was unjustified in 1977 and is even more unjustified now," according to Sam Kazman, CEI General Counsel.

In 1977-83 Mr. Kazman represented Consumer Alert and Pacific Legal Foundation in their unsuccessful court challenges to the Transportation Department's passive restraint mandate. He is especially critical of Joan Claybrook's current claim that she warned the public of air bag hazards when she headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and that these warnings were somehow overwhelmed by the auto industry's air bag sales campaign: "Rather than 'warn' of its hazards, Joan Claybrook used every opportunity to portray the air bag as a technology so marvelous that one didn't even need to buckle up. Her current spin on this issue puts a new meaning on the term 'revolving door' -- mandate a device while you're in government, and then blame it on industry after you leave. Consumers, meanwhile, are left to pick up the tab, both in dollars and lives."

For example, an October 2nd, 1979, AP story quotes Claybrook as accusing GM of "delaying installation of air bags on the basis of a 'hurry up style' finding that they hurt small children."

In a November 21, 1983, CNN debate with Mr. Kazman, Claybrook stated that air bags "fit all different sizes and types of people, from little children up to very large males. So they really work beautifully." In a July 9, 1985, ABA speech, she dismissed questions about air bag child safety as an industry attempt "at undermining public confidence".

Public Citizen's claim that the air bag working well in other respects is similarly false. NHTSA's most recent estimate, that air bags reduce fatality risk by 11 percent, is a far cry from the agency's 1977 claim of 44-50 percent effectiveness.

Fran Smith, President of Consumer Alert, stated: "Forget about fiddling with the details; the air bag mandate should be scrapped, period. The choice should be up to consumers, not to flip-flopping regulators."

For more information, contact Greg Smith at (202) 331-1010 or gsmith@cei.org.