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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
March 14, 1997

Friday, March 14, 1997
NHTSA 14-97
Contact:  Tim Hurd
Tel. No. (202) 366-9550

As part of its comprehensive air bag strategy to reduce the risk of death and injury to children and small adults in low speed crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today amended the agency s crash protection standard to give manufacturers additional leeway in producing less powerful air bags.

Safety is our highest priority, and we moved at a record pace to devise an interim solution that can be adopted quickly. It is another part of our comprehensive strategy to preserve the benefits of air bags while minimizing the risk to children and smaller adults. However, the best safety advice remains the same: drivers and passengers should always buckle up, and children 12 and under should ride in the back seat, said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, NHTSA administrator.

The agency estimates that from 1986 to Feb. 15, 1997, air bags saved more than 1,750 drivers and passengers. Nevertheless, NHTSA has identified 62 crashes in which the deployment of the air bag resulted in fatal injuries to a driver or passenger, including 38 children. Lower powered air bags may have avoided many of the fatal injuries to these individuals, most of whom were unbelted or improperly belted.

Dr. Martinez said the amendment will permit air bags to be depowered by 20-35 percent. Because the agency is permitting this change immediately, auto manufacturers can move rapidly to introduce depowered air bags. NHTSA expects vehicles to be available with depowered systems late in Model Year 1997 or beginning in Model Year 1998.

Currently, vehicles are tested in a barrier impact at 30 mph. Under the amended procedure, vehicles may be mounted on a sled, which is then accelerated at a rate approximating the forces experienced in a crash. The effect on the dummies inside will be measured in the same way as the standard barrier test.

- While this interim action will promote safety, as a long-term solution manufacturers and suppliers are working on a variety of advanced technologies to tailor air bag deployment based on such things as crash severity and occupant size and position, Dr. Martinez said.

The agency has announced that it plans to conduct rulemaking to require more advanced air bags on a phased-in schedule. Dr. Martinez noted that today s rulemaking has been produced rapidly to give manufacturers more lead time to make design changes, if they choose to use the amended test procedure.

Copies of the 73-page rulemaking are available from the NHTSA Office of Public and Consumer Affairs, (202) 366-9550. It also will be published in the Federal Register.

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