CEI Blasts NHTSA’S Handling Of Air Bags And CAFE At Congressional Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC May 22, 1997 -Testifying at a House reauthorization hearing on NHTSA, CEI today charged that the agency was on the verge of repeating its lethal errors in both of these programs.

Addressing the House Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated: “NHTSA's handling of both CAFE and air bags show that the agency cannot honestly assess its failures. In the case of CAFE, NHTSA has refused to admit the impact of CAFE-induced downsizing on passenger car safety. In the case of air bags, NHTSA has refused to acknowledge its failure to adequately test these devices in the real world, and it has refused to admit that air bags operate at only one-third the effectiveness that the agency itself promised. Instead, the agency is now considering whether to mandate an even more complex version of the device.”

In a 1992 court ruling won by CEI, a federal appeals panel held that the agency had illegally concealed CAFE's lethal impact through a combination of “fudged analysis”, “statistical ledgermain” and “bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo”. Nonetheless, the agency has continued to absolve CAFE of any adverse safety effect on passenger cars.

On the air bag issue, Mr. Kazman pointed out that NHTSA's main concern seemed to be spin control, rather than confronting air bag risks. A 1991 NHTSA memo noted the agency's concern about “bad press” from air bag deaths. In 1993, the agency issued a watered-down air bag warning, to be posted on car sun visors, when “safety” groups urged it to avoid alarming the public. Mr. Kazman noted former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook's misrepresentation of her role in the air bag mandate. When NHTSA first proposed the mandate, she repeatedly hyped the device as being fully tested and perfect for little children. Now she claims that she tried to warn the public of the air bag's hazards.