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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Government Calls for Safety Upgrades for New Vehicles

Side Air Bags Will Be Standard in All Cars by September 2009

Side-impact crashes kill thousands of motorists every year and leave others with serious brain injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants new passenger vehicles to provide head protection, and recently issued rules requiring the improved safety protections in new passenger vehicles by September 2012.

Side-impact crashes killed 9,200 people and injured 650,000 in 2005. The upgrades have been under review since 2004, and are created to reduce deaths and injuries of motorists who are struck by another car or truck along the vehicle's side.

By installing side air bags that protect a person's chest and abdomen and window curtain air bags guarding the head, the agency estimated that changes to the safety systems could save 311 lives and prevent 361 serious injuries a year.

The safety agency's administrator, Nicole Nason, said the crashes often lead to debilitating injuries. "Even people who survive the crash can end up with long-term medical costs and permanent brain injuries, so we think (the rules) are important for both injuries and fatalities," she said.

Automakers said they were amenable to the changes. In 2003, the industry agreed to install side air bags in all new passenger vehicles by September 2009 and the safety equipment is becoming more widely available.

Dave McCurdy, the head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and others, said the Alliance shares NHTSA's goal of "enhancing head protection" in side crashes.

Manufacturers will be required to phase-in the head protection beginning with the 2010 model year, with full compliance by the 2013 model year, under the government's plan. It will increase the average vehicle cost by $33.

The rules do not demand that specific technologies to meet the standards, but automakers will probably use side curtain air bags and air bags that protect the chest and abdomen. Almost half of 2008 model year vehicles offer the air bag combination.

Automakers will need to comply with a new test that replicates a vehicle striking a tree or a pole in the driver's side. They will also be required to conduct crash tests using dummies the size of a petite woman and a more technologically advanced male dummy of average height.

A spokesman for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said the rule provided more concentration on head injuries of motorists in the back seat and would take into account a wider range of people. But he said it would not do enough to protect elderly motorists.

Safety groups have extolled the benefits of side air bags. A study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revealed driver deaths were reduced by 52 percent in sport utility vehicles outfitted with head-protecting side air bags, while the same air bags reduced driver deaths by 37 percent in passenger cars.

The National Safety Commission recommends The Driver Education Handbook for Parents as a valuable teaching tool for parents who are concerned with their teen's driving safety and understand the value of quality instruction.

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