Air Bag Hearings Turn Deaf Ear to Consumer Choice

Two free market-advocacy groups charged that today's Senate hearing on air bags was a meaningless replay that failed to consider real alternatives to the current federal rule.

Sam Kazman, General Counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, characterized the Senate Commerce Committee hearing as being no different than last month's House Appropriations Committee hearing: “The witness lists at both these hearings are practically identical. Nearly all of the testimony has focused on fine-tuning the current federal air bag mandate, but not one witness has questioned the need for even having a federal mandate.”

Frances B. Smith, Executive Director of Consumer Alert, stated: “There is a paramount need to re-examine the entire rationale of the air bag mandate, rather than just play with its details. The lethal effects of air bags on children and small adults is dramatic evidence of what happens when policymakers adopt a 'one size fits all' approach that disregards individual differences and choices.”

The groups criticize the mandate both for forcing air bags on people who don't want them, and for imposing an inferior design standard that prevents the installation of better devices. They charged that with industry, NHTSA and the Nader groups all supporting a mandate, there was little chance for consideration of other views.

Mr. Kazman also released his response to Joan Claybrook's recent attack on a Wall Street Journal op-ed by him that appeared on December 3. In a letter published by the Journal on January 2, Ms. Claybrook vehemently disputed Mr. Kazman's contention that her 1977 passive restraint mandate was based on overblown estimates of air bag effectiveness. In response, Mr. Kazman pointed out that his assertions were fully supported by public records.

He stated: “I never thought I'd say this, but God bless the Federal Register! Every point we make is documented, and I'd be happy to debate this with Ms. Claybrook whenever she chooses.”

For more information, contact Greg Smith at (202) 331-1010 or [email protected].