Auto and Road User Journal
November 19, 1997
(U.S. and Canada)
Fax: (360) 335-6402
NOVEMBER 18, 1997
When I came into this office, I said that safety would be the Departments top priority. Determining what to do with air bags has been the most difficult safety issue we have faced so far. Air bags are like medicines that save lives, but can have dangerous side effects.
Thirteen years ago, Secretary Dole announced the rule that has led to 67 million vehicles being equipped with air bags. It was a tough decision then. The issue had been debated for 15 long years. And clearly, much good has come from air bags. 2600 lives have been saved. But in her announcement, Secretary Dole warned that highways deaths cannot be solved by the "stroke of a pen, or the wizardry of technology."
As we gather here today, we know with painful reminder the truth of this statement. For just as air bags have saved 2600 lives, they have also cost the lives of 87 children and adults.
Like the first air bag debate, we did not hurry with this one. It is too complicated, too important and we want it to be guided by reason and reflection.
We took a common sense approach. We learned new information. We heard from every side. We weighed all interests. And we have made a judgment in the publics interest.
Our decision is a practical solution that allows you to turn off the air bag for someone at risk and then turn it back on again to preserve the lifesaving benefits for everyone else. In a nutshell, we seek to preserve the benefits of air bags and minimize their risks.
So, today, I am announcing consumers who fit into four at risk categories can purchase a switch to turn on and off air bags as the need arises.
These consumers are: one, those with certain medical conditions; two, those who must sit within 10 inches of the steering wheel; three, those who cannot avoid placing rear-facing infant seats in the front seat of a vehicle; and fourth, families or carpoolers who drive many children and must place a child in the front seat.
To obtain the switch, consumers must read an informational brochure so they understand the risks. They then must submit an easy-to-fill-out application that we will respond to expeditiously.
We have made a difficult decision. Now it is the publics turn to make theirs. I want their decision to be easier to make than ours has been.
So, we will begin an extensive educational campaign that will include brochures, a hotline, a page on the Internet and many other educational activities. This afternoon, at a Moving Kids Safely Conference, I will ask several hundred safety leaders, from communities all across the country, to help us.
We have many partners who have offered to help and were going to take them up on their support. Wed also like to ask our friends in the media to help us, to use your powers to inform the public as well.
Finally, lets forget about air bags for a minute and let us know that in large measure, we would not be here today if all children under 12 sat in the back seat of vehicles. If those children were properly buckled and, if they are small, if they were placed in the right-sized child safety seat that was put in the car appropriately.
We need children to know not to sit in the front seat of automobiles. We need them to know that it is cool to sit in the back seat. If we cannot get to parents, then we need to get to children. But in the final analysis, it is adults who are the ones who have to be responsible.
Today, one in three Americans just dont get it. They dont buckle up. When cars crash, air bags provide full protection only if seat belts are buckled. Today is but one of many steps that we must take. With that, Id like to again say thank you for your presence, thank you for your interest.