WASHINGTON -- The government is proposing sweeping changes in auto air bag safety rules to better protect young children and small women.
Under new rules to be announced Friday by Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, automakers would be required tests using an entire "family" of auto dummies, including 1-, 3- and 6-year-old children and a small woman, as well as an average size man currently required.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials said the regulations attempt to recreate real-world conditions by specifying that child dummies be placed in child seats on the passenger seat and in unbelted sitting, kneeling, standing and lying positions.
The standard allows for a lower speed crash test, which the auto industry said will protect smaller passengers who can be killed when the bag inflates at low speeds. Since 1990, air bags have killed 158 children and small adults, mostly at slower speeds.
Some consumer groups wanted a 30 mph standard that would result in more powerful air bags, which they say could be combined with advanced technology to stop them from inflating at lower speeds.
From Sept. 1, 2003, to Aug. 31, 2006, increasing percentages of motor vehicles will be required to meet requirements for reducing air bag risks, either by automatically turning off the air bag in the presence of young children or deploying the air bag in a manner much less likely to cause serious or fatal injury, officials said.
During a second stage phase-in from Sept. 1, 2007, to Aug. 31, 2010, the maximum test speed for unbelted average-size dummies will increase from 30 mph to 35 mph in tests for increasing percentages of vehicles.
The department's interim final rule could change after a period of public comment and reaction to the slower speed test.
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