Ready New Air Bag Rules
Testing Seeks to End Deaths From Inflating Devices
March 1, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government
will require air bags to protect a "family" of dummies in a new series of federal
tests designed to prevent nearly all deaths from the inflating bags, according
to final regulations expected in March.
The new testing is broad
in scope, covering how air bags inflate during serious automobile crashes as
well as checking how they inflate in stationary tests when child dummies are
positioned close to the instrument panel where the air bag comes out.
Congress directed the Department
of Transportation to make the regulations final by today. That deadline is slipping,
government officials say, but most of the plan is already known.
The auto industry agrees
with most of the plan, but the regulations have been delayed because of heavy
lobbying by the industry and many other groups to remove one controversial crash
Blamed for 150 deaths
Air bags have been blamed
for at least 150 deaths -- mainly young, unbelted children and some shorter
women -- in low-speed crashes that the victims otherwise should have survived,
according to government data.
officials say they crafted the tests to certify air bag systems in future cars
that avoid up to 95 percent of bag-caused deaths while maintaining their benefits
in saving lives in high-speed crashes.
To give the auto industry
sufficient lead time, the new regulations would be phased in for cars built
between 2003 and 2006.
The new tests require adding
a female dummy to the male dummy being used, along with child dummies representing
an infant, a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old.
Some of the tests are intended
to ensure the bags either do not inflate when children are present or inflate
with much less energy so children are not harmed. In these stationary tests,
the air bag is fired after children are placed in various positions on the seat
or close to the instrument panel. In some of the tests, children are properly
restrained in child seats.
A much lower level of inflation
is achieved with so-called dual-stage air bags that have started coming onto
the market. Weight sensors in the seat and other technologies that detect children
would suppress air bags.
Previous government crash
testing for air-bag certification required only a dummy representing an average
adult male, prompting criticism that air bags were best tailored to adult men
and were sometimes inflating too forcefully for children or small-statured women.
The new plan also requires
crashing the front of vehicles into a solid wall to ensure the air bags will
inflate with enough force to cushion a dummy representing an adult male and
a dummy representing a slender female.
Equipment detects force
Another test crashes only
about half the front of a vehicle into a softer barrier to make sure air bag
sensors detect a more moderate crash and do not fire air bags too late to protect
belted female drivers.
The most heavily publicized
and controversial part of the air bag regulations would require the auto industry
to return to a severe crash test that ensures air bags inflate forcefully enough
to cushion an unbelted adult male as a car crashes into a solid wall at 30 mph.
The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration made that test optional in 1997, and automakers quickly
installed less forceful air bags in cars. Government data shows that air-bag
deaths have declined sharply for models since that year.