"Smart" Air Bag Rule Would Be As Unwise As The Original Mandate

"Smart" Air Bag Rule Would Be As Unwise As The Original Mandate

February 06, 2000

Washington, DC, February 7, 2000 – While NHTSA moves toward mandating "smart" air bags, the Competitive Enterprise Institute today charged that the agency is repeating the very same errors that led to the current air bag disaster. CEI also unveiled a long-forgotten photo showing how regulatory advocates were responsible for the false notion that air bags would protect children.

The photo shows Ralph Nader demonstrating an air bag simulator on an unbelted 3-year old child. It was taken at a July 5, 1977 press conference touting the device. Air bags are currently blamed for the deaths of at least 86 children in low-severity crashes that should otherwise have been survivable. After initially attempting to cover-up this danger in the early 1990s, NHTSA currently admits that air bags actually make cars more dangerous for front-seat children.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated: "The claim that air bags protect kids was pushed by Nader and even NHTSA itself, which actually advised the public that it didn’t have wear seat belts in order to be protected by air bags. Today we know exactly the opposite—children and even certain adults must wear seatbelts to avoid being killed by air bags."

CEI also charged that NHTSA was poised to repeat its basic mistake of mandating air bags without extensive real-world testing. The group issued an analysis of air bag recall data showing that, since 1997, nearly 1.5 million cars were recalled due to problems that only real-world experience could reveal, such as durability, corrosion and environmental stress. According to Kazman, "if NHTSA had bothered to do real-world testing the first time around, the dangers and weaknesses of air bags would have been known beforehand. Instead, the agency relied on laboratory simulations. Now the agency is about to mandate far more complex air bags, once again without real-world data. There may well be smart air bags, but the only smart air bag mandate is no mandate at all."

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.