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Tougher standards for air bags imposed

September 06, 2007|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The federal government effectively ordered auto manufacturers Wednesday to install advanced head and side air bags in new vehicles beginning in 2009 to provide more protection for drivers and passengers in side-impact crashes.

The first-ever National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requirement aimed at reducing head injuries will force carmakers to meet aggressive criteria that could render unacceptable some side air bag systems that have been installed voluntarily in recent years.

In addition, the agency's decision to reverse course from an earlier proposal and mandate a test requirement for rear side safety will protect older children and elderly passengers, who more often ride in the back seat, safety experts said.

"With these rigorous new requirements, we are building on the strength of innovative and life-saving side-impact technologies that are already available to many new-car buyers," NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason said.

Side-impact crashes, including when vehicles slide sideways into trees and utility poles, account for more than 9,000 U.S. auto deaths a year, or about a quarter of the total.

The new safety requirement, to be mostly phased in between 2009 and 2012, is expected to save more than 300 lives annually and prevent nearly 400 serious injuries, the NHTSA estimated.

The move is mixed news for automakers, who lobbied hard for less-stringent criteria and now face an estimated $560 million in additional yearly costs.

Although regulators did not specify how the change should be met, it is widely expected that carmakers will have to install air bags that drop from the roof rails, like a curtain, and expand from the door or the seat.

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