WASHINGTON - Evidence is mounting that depowered airbags are working as hoped.
Barry Felrice, director of regulatory affairs for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, said he can find no case in which one of the new, depowered airbags failed to protect a mid-sized or larger adult in a crash.
At the same time, The Associated Press reported last week that its analysis of 25 low-speed crashes involving short or slight-statured women in vehicles equipped with depowered airbags found that none was killed or injured seriously.
Although statistically valid conclusions cannot be drawn from such a small sample, Felrice noted, automakers are encouraged that depowered airbags will be shown to be less of a threat to children and small adults than previous designs, while continuing to provide protection to others.
Data from depowered airbag crashes, which the industry is helping to collect for the government, could play a role in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decisions.
Automakers have asked NHTSA to revise proposed rules on advanced airbag designs so that maximum deployment forces would be comparable to depowered airbags, which started going into cars and trucks a year ago.
Otherwise, they say, they would be forced to revert to more powerful systems.