Belt use up; airbag deaths down

WASHINGTON - Two reports last week had good news for those in the automobile industry who say big safety gains are possible without more regulation of motor vehicles. One report did not.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday, Aug. 30, that its latest survey of seat-belt use found 73 percent of people buckling up, a 2 percentage point gain in less than a year. Belt use is known to reduce deaths and injuries dramatically.

Another report, from the industry-supported coalition called Airbag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, found that the number of children killed by airbag deployments fell from 26 in 1996 to nine last year - even as the number of vehicles with passenger airbags nearly quadrupled.

Although manufacturers have been installing less powerful airbags, the campaign said the main reason for fewer deaths is that motorists are putting children in back seats.

A third report had less optimistic news:

A NHTSA survey found 27 percent of cars and 32 percent of light trucks had one or more tires substantially underinflated. Tires with too little air generate heat and are more likely to fail. A rule to require air pressure monitors on new vehicles is pending.

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