Institute Denounces Air Bag Deactivation Rule: Too Little, Too Late

WASHINGTON, DC, November 18, 1997 — The Competitive Enterprise Institute today charged that the U.S. Transportation Department's new air bag deactivation rule was a totally unsatisfactory response to a public health problem that the agency itself had created.

Sam Kazman, CEI general counsel, stated: “This new rule protects everyone but the consumer. It protects the agency, which did its best to keep consumers in the dark about the air bag's risks for as long as possible. It protects the Naderite 'consumer safety' establishment, which is chiefly responsible for bringing us the air bag mandate in the first place and will do anything to keep that mandate in place, the public be damned. And it protects the auto industry, which has evidently decided that serving the public is a low priority. But it does not protect consumers, who must now shuffle through demeaning paperwork in order to expensively turn off a device which should never have been imposed in the first place.”

Despite President Clinton's December, 1996, promise that consumers would be able to freely deactivate their air bags, and despite NHTSA's own recognition at the time that there was a “need for immediate relief”, the agency took 11 months to issue its decision. Under the new rule, consumers are barred from having their devices simply deactivated, but must instead purchase expensive switches that will have to be re-set every time the car is started. “If Dr. Martinez had treated an individual patient the way he's treated the public, he'd be guilty of medical malpractice”, Mr. Kazman stated.

A poll released by CEI earlier this year showed that Americans opposed the air bag mandate by a ratio of 3-1. According to a CEI monograph by Bowling Green philosophy professor Loren Lomasky, the air bag mandate takes “a women and children last approach”, flatly contradicting ethical principles. In December, 1996, CEI released documents demonstrating that such groups as the Center for Auto Safety and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety had expressly urged NHTSA, in 1993, to water down its proposed warnings about air bag risks – an action whose effect was to keep the public uniformed about this issue.

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to free markets and limited government. For more information call Emily McGee at (202) 331-1010.