AUTOMAKERS REPORTEDLY GEARING UP TO SEEK LESS-INJURIOUS AIR BAGS.
To reduce death and injuries from air bags, U.S. automakers soon will ask that a cornerstone safety regulation be reshaped to allow them to put less-violent air bags in cars.
Possibly as early as Friday, automakers are expected to unveil a plan to make air bags gentler and, it is hoped, less deadly - although they can't promise this - especially to children who are now being killed at a rate of one a month by passenger-side air bags.
``The less violent we can make the air bag blow, the better off you'll be and your children will be,'' said Vann Wilber, the director of vehicle safety for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, which is drafting the plan to make air bags safer.
There's no proof yet that their proposal would reduce deaths or serious injuries. It could actually increase the risk of injury or death in high-speed crashes when belts aren't used, according to automakers, insurers and federal safety officials.
Officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration aren't convinced that changing safety standards or testing is the answer.
``We don't think it is the solution,'' said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, ``There's no evidence that this will stop deaths and injuries from air bags.''
He believes education is the answer, which is why he recently announced plans for labels in new cars that warn that air bags can kill and advise proper use.
But car makers believe that's not enough. They say the labels won't save enough lives because they'll end up in the trash or with seldom-read owners manuals.
Air bags save many lives, by some estimates more than 1,500 since they were introduced a decade ago. But since 1993, at least one adult and 22 children have been killed by passenger-side air bags, according to federal safety records.
Automakers fear that the death and injury toll will climb once passenger-side air bags become mandatory this year.