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Survive Your Drive: Air Bags Tested at G.M. Proving Ground; Teens, Parents Seek Help at Defensive Driving Course

Aired August 25, 2000 - 1:33 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Most of us like to be think of air bags as something that will help us survive otherwise deadly situations. But air bags themselves have killed people and designers are constantly trying to make them safer and more effective.

CNN's Ed Garsten joins us again from the G.M. Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan -- Ed.

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, you're absolutely right.

One of the problems is especially in the case of children or small statured adults that have to be so close to the steering wheel when the air bag deploys, G.M. has developed a test to help engineers minimize those injuries and deaths to small statured people when air bags deploy.

They are about ready to start the test. Let's watch.

All right, it doesn't take very long for that test to happen, but what we saw was a dummy going into a steering wheel.

And here to explain exactly what that means is Jim Khoury, who is one of the main engineers in G.M.'s air bag program.

And Jim, what was this test all about? what did we learn from this?

Thank you, Ed.

JIM KHOURY, AIR BAG ENGINEERING MANAGER: One of a whole variety of tests that we run is to examine specifically what the potential for injury is, relative to small occupants. In this case, we have specifically set up a small female, 105 pounds, 5 foot tall. We have pushed her into the steering wheel at 12 miles an hour. Upon doing that, we have deliberately deployed the air bag when she was too close.

The test set up, in specific, has measurements for force in the chest and in the neck, And this data helps us design a better air bag.

One of the air bag design features is how it is folded. As you can see, the air bag came out radially. So part of the energy did not hit the driver. The energy went out radially.

A by-product of this design -- and let me show you -- is what we call a third door. The white lines show where the air bags should open normally, and these seams are hidden for styling purposes.

Should the driver's chest get too close to the air bag, the air bag will come out of a third door and squirt into the wheel, diverting the force from the driver helping to minimize any potential injury, especially for small drivers.

GARSTEN: Jim, is that a feature that is in automobiles now?

KHOURY: That is a feature that we have developed as a by-product of this test, and it is in the Saturns.

GARSTEN: One thing we've always heard is that perhaps small- statured people should take a sheet of paper, about 10 inches long, and stay about that distance away from the wheel; that is still a good rule?

KHOURY: Yes, somewhere around nine to 12 inches, approximately, but make sure you're in a position to be able to safely control the vehicle, that's number one: crash avoidance.

GARSTEN: All right, Jim Khoury, thanks so much, still another important test here at the G.M. Proving Grounds.

Ed Garsten, reporting live from Milford, Michigan.

ALLEN: Well, for American teenagers, driving is a right of passage literally and otherwise. It is also one of the most dangerous things they could possibly do, especially when combined with another right of passage for some: drinking.

Here's CNN Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: All right, where are we at? We should be on page 30 -- 28; right?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a defensive driver course for people who want to perfect their driving skills and perhaps get a lower insurance rate; but it's a course with a twist.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Light beer has less alcohol than regular beer?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: False.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: OK, less calories, that is right.

TUCHMAN: The twist: teenage drivers and their parents are encouraged to learn together. UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: We're going to call this Oak Street. Now, make things a little difficult for you, going to put a red light up.

TUCHMAN: Brandon Burke is 16, he just got his Georgia license. His father Gary figures he, too, could benefit from this class, while helping his son become a better driver.

BRANDON BURKE, NEW DRIVER: I sometimes feel a little not confident, especially when there's a lot of traffic around, because I've only been driving by myself for two months.

TUCHMAN: Lack of confidence is often not an issue with teenage drivers, to their detriment, say police.

(on camera): Watching teenagers start driving on their own is one of the more nerve-wracking parts of parenthood, and federal statistics prove that feeling is not unwarranted: 35 percent of all 16- to 20-year-old deaths result from motor vehicle crashes. It's the leading cause of teenage death.

GARY BURKE, FATHER OF NEW DRIVER: You just hope the phone doesn't ring at an inopportune time that it's the police calling you telling you there's been an accident.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): In Gwinnet County, Georgia, the same county where this defensive driving course is taking place, 16-year- old Kirby Cruce lost her life two weeks ago. She had received her driver's license four days before she attended a party at this house, a party where beer was allegedly in ample supply and parental supervision was not.

The teen flipped her car driving home from the party. Authorities are still waiting for the results of her blood alcohol tests. But police went to the site of the party after the accident and charged 40 underage youths with alcohol possession. Under a new Georgia law, they could lose their licenses for six months. And police are aggressively trying to find out who supplied the alcohol.

OFC. GEORGE GILSON, GWINNETT CO., GA POLICE: Anybody who was there that can share with us factual information with a name, we want to hear from them.

TUCHMAN: Teen auto death rates have fallen somewhat in recent years. Authorities believe it's from more aggressive law enforcement and more restrictive youth licenses, but that fact does not ease the pain of the friends of Kirby Cruce, who have learned the hard way about what is still a frighteningly common tragedy.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Gwinnet County, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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