TRW Inc. last week launched a nationwide ad campaign to convince the public - as well as the federal government - that passenger-side airbags are not the evil menace they have been portrayed to be.
TRW plans to run the ads in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and Washington newspapers through June to argue that the benefits of passenger bags far outweigh their risks to children and smaller adults.
The key readership: federal regulators who are prepared to pull the plug on passenger-side bags.
The ads use testimonials from traffic accident survivors and cite highway death tolls to remind the public that the restraint systems save lives. The ad copy also alludes to 'smart' technology under development that will take a passenger's size into consideration before deploying.
The ads come as industry and government officials debate whether vehicle owners should be permitted to disconnect their passenger-side bags. In the past year, federal regulators have been under pressure from safety and parents' groups to change the rules on airbag deployments. Airbag impacts have been blamed for killing 66 people, including 39 children.
TRW, one of the world's largest airbag makers, counters in its ads that nearly 2,000 people have been saved by the systems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to decide as early as this month on whether to authorize owners to disconnect their airbags.
'Disconnecting airbags would be a step backward,' reads the TRW ad copy.
NHTSA spokesman Phil Frame said the agency sees no problem with the ads.
'It's nice to see someone else concerned about disconnecting airbags,' Frame said. 'We don't think it's a good idea, either, for most people. There's a lot of unfounded concern on the part of the public about airbags.'
TRW spokesman Jay McCaffrey said the manufacturer also intends to carry the campaign into radio.
'We believe that as NHTSA comes up with its proposal, not all the people who have a stake in this debate are being heard,' McCaffrey said.
'A lot of publicity is being given to children and small-statured adults,' he said. 'And while they deserve consideration, we're concerned that NHTSA is being pressured to take steps that might not be in the best interest of the majority of people.'