New Smart Air Bag Rule as Bad as the Original Mandate

New Smart Air Bag Rule as Bad as the Original Mandate

For the second time in a row, an air bag mandate based on zero real-world data
May 05, 2000

WASHIGNTON, DC, May 5, 2000 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute today charged that NHTSA’s new smart air bag rule could be a potentially deadly replay of the agency’s original air bag mandate. As in the case of the first air bag rule, NHTSA’s latest regulation is based purely on engineering simulations; it is supported by no real-word data whatsoever.

When NHTSA issued its first passive restraint mandate under the Carter Administration, it decided not to wait for supporting field data from on-the-road cars. As a result, its projections of air bag safety benefits turned out to be overstated by nearly 70 percent. Worse yet, the devices proved to be a lethal hazard to children.

In the case of smart air bags, NHTSA is once again proceeding without any real-world data, even though these devices are far more complex than their predecessors. (For an example of unsupported overconfidence in air bags, see this 1977 photo of Ralph Nader demonstrating a simulated air bag on a three-year old unbelted girl at a 1977 press conference on the safety benefits of the device.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated: "NHTSA is incapable of learning from history. While it pretends to take a public health approach to auto safety, it refuses to assemble the data that public health measures require. Its arrogance has been deadly in the past, and may well be deadly in the future."

A recent CEI analysis of air bag recalls found that, since 1997, nearly half of the 3 million cars recalled had problems that only real-world experience was likely to expose, such as corrosion and durability defects. In CEI’s view, the best solution would be no air bag mandate whatsoever. Market demand would ensure continued air bag availability, but without the across-the-board government performance standards that have proven to be so deadly.

CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209 or emcgee@cei.org.