SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said Tuesday that he will not compromise on mandatory seat belt legislation he is sponsoring that also would require auto makers to install air bags on cars sold in California.
"In my house, the bill will be voted upon on the basis of what is in the best interest of the public, not what is in the best interest of General Motors," the San Francisco Democrat said.
Suggesting that American car makers are more concerned with making profits than with saving lives, Brown said, "To say that there's any room for compromise would be a mistake."
Brown's bill is at the center of a complex battle among car makers, insurance companies and consumer groups over the question of whether motorists should be required to buckle up, whether auto makers should be required to install air bags or both.
The federal government has ruled that air bags will be required equipment on new cars unless states representing two-thirds of the nation's population pass mandatory seat belt laws by 1989.
A seat belt bill supported by the auto industry and authored by state Sen. John F. Foran (D-San Francisco) has cleared the Senate Transportation Committee. It contains no air bag provision.
Brown's bill, supported by large segments of the insurance industry, would require Californians to buckle up and would require air bags or other passive restraints on all cars sold in California.
"Anyone who says California ought to be a part of blocking the imposition of air bags at the national level is not operating in the best interest of the citizenship of this state," Brown said at a press conference.
General Motor once promoted air bags but abandoned the idea because, Brown said, "they don't make as much profit."
"It's terrible to think that there might be some instrument that would save my life or keep my brains from being scrambled in these deadly pieces of equipment that we call automobiles and somebody would say, 'I don't want to put it in there because it's too expensive,"' he said.
"It ought to be mandated. It ought to be just like brake lights. It ought to be just like bumpers."
Brown, who was in a widely reported collision with a bicyclist last week, said he is attempting to obtain an American-made car equipped with an air bag as his state vehicle.
"I've not taken delivery on a new state car because I'm trying my best to get them to provide me with a car with an air bag," he said. "Seat belts are kind of a pain to keep putting on and taking off. I'd rather have an air bag."
General Motors spokesman Harry Kelly said in response to Brown's comments that the company is promoting mandatory seat belt laws because they would be the most effective way to protect motorist.
"We're not saying it's too expensive (to install air bags)," he said. "We just feel there's a much better way of doing it. If people would buckle up, it would save many lives."
Air bags are not effective in some kinds of collisions and seat belts should be worn even in cars with air bags, Kelly said.