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Government Issues New Rules for Testing Automobile Air Bags

Aired May 5, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, big changes are down the road for air bag safety tests. The government is giving crash test dummies a make-over, giving the family sedan a more real-world feel.

CNN's Carl Rochelle is in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five thousand lives have been saved by air bags since they went into use in the late 1980s. But 158 people, 92 of them children, have been killed by the force of the air bags deploying.

That's why the Department of Transportation is issuing new rules, requiring automakers to crash test the air bags using an entire family of dummies. Earlier tests used only adult male dummies.

RODNEY SLATER, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: We want to preserve the lifesaving effect of air bags. But we are deeply concerned and have been for some time now about their potential harm to some people.

ROCHELLE: The regulations announced by DoT Secretary Slater will be phased in beginning in 2003. They will require new tests using the family of dummies to ensure air bags don't hurt children or small adults in the front passenger seat, improved standards to reduce the risk of injuries to the elderly and to reduce the chance of neck injuries, and tests to ensure an unbelted passenger can survive a crash at 25 miles an hour. Some safety advocates wanted the test performed at 30 miles an hour.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, "PUBLIC CITIZEN": The time you need an air bag is in a high-speed crash because it protects your head and your chest from devastating injuries or death. You do not need an air bag so much in a low-speed crash.

ROCHELLE: Until 1997, air bags were tested at higher speeds. That led critics to charge the Clinton administration had bowed to pressure from automakers in setting the lower standard, a charge denied by Slater.

SLATER: Now this approach involves the least amount of risk for occupants who have been most vulnerable and most at risk, while also improving, again, air bag safety for all occupants. A difficult task, a difficult balance, but we think that we have gotten it right. ROCHELLE (on camera): Officials say the Department of Transportation will continue to study the effectiveness of air bags at higher speeds while phasing in the new air bag technology.

Carl Rochelle, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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