December 17, 1998

Public Interest Comment on Advanced Air Bags

  • Susan Dudley

    Director, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center
Key materials
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Rulemaking:

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Occupant Crash Protection, "Advanced Air Bags"; Docket No. NHTSA 98-4405; Notice 1, RIN 2127-AG70

Stated Purpose:

"The agency's proposal would require that improvements be made in the ability of air bags to cushion and protect occupants of different sizes, belted and unbelted, and would require air bags to be redesigned to minimize risks to infants, children, and other occupants."

Summary of RSP Comment:

NHTSA's one-size-fits-all standard, though well intentioned, takes away consumer choice and precludes manufacturers from meeting diverse demands with a variety of safety measures and levels.

The benefits of air bags have always accrued disproportionately to occupants who are not wearing seat belts (72 percent of the benefits of existing rules) and the "smart" air bags that the proposed tests are designed to encourage will continue this pattern.

NHTSA could better serve consumers by allowing them to make informed decisions based on an evaluation of individual tradeoffs. Permitting the installation of manual on-off switches would allow consumers, rather than complicated computer algorithms, to determine when an air bag was not appropriate.

Though NHTSA's economic analysis is generally well done, and suggests that the proposal will provide net benefits on average, it suffers from not adequately addressing the differential safety impacts on consumers.