WASHINGTON - Automakers are asking President Clinton to keep federal regulators from requiring airbags that car companies say will again endanger children and small women.
A letter from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is to be sent to the White House today, Feb. 14. It will be reinforced with full-page ads in the Washington Post.
'We're asking the president to get involved,' said Gloria Bergquist, alliance vice president.
The unusual step is being taken because automakers believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already has decided to reinstate a crash test that they say requires overly aggressive airbags, Bergquist said.
FINAL RULES DUE MARCH 1
The administration faces a March 1 deadline for issuing final rules on advanced airbags, which will be phased into cars and trucks during the 2003-06 model years.
The goal of the systems is to protect a variety of occupants in a range of crash situations without creating unreasonable risks for children and small women.
Automakers generally have supported the rules but strongly oppose a test requiring protection for an unbelted mid-sized adult male in a 30-mph crash into a solid barrier. They say it would force them to install overly powerful airbags, which would then be incapable of meeting the rules' other goals.
In 1997, after the government and the industry realized airbag deployments in low-speed crashes were injuring and killing people, especially children and small women, automakers were allowed to install reduced-powered airbags. That's when the 30-mph unbelted barrier test was suspended.
Proponents of reviving the test, including at least some NHTSA officials, say automakers have too little confidence in advanced technology. They argue that with sophisticated sensors and multistage airbag inflators, the advanced systems should be able to protect the unbelted adult in a high-speed crash and depower for women and children.
MAKING THE CASE
Some industry leaders and their allies also made the case against resuming the test to the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Feb. 10.
Lou Camp, director of automotive safety at Ford Motor Co. and chairman of the alliance's safety policy committee, said NHTSA predicted depowered airbags would allow as many as 1,100 more unbelted adults to be killed in high-speed crashes each year. But there is no evidence such fatalities have occurred, he said.
Brian O'Neill, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that NHTSA and safety advocacy groups that favor the 30-mph unbelted barrier test are basing their position on 'an overly simplistic view that does not take into account the complex physics and biomechanics of car crashes.'
He said the proponents of higher crash test speeds fail to recognize that most unbelted people who die in such crashes do so because their vehicle structures collapsed around them or because they were ejected from the vehicles.