2004-06-25 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Remember buying packs of baseball cards in order to obtain your favorite player’s card? You had to purchase many packs in order to acquire the one card you really wanted. Although the other cards were good, it was more than you actually wanted. Consumers are being faced with a similar problem in the automobile arena. Purchasing side airbags in addition to the federally mandated airbags is often difficult. Many times, you are forced to purchase a package of options in order to equip your new car with additional airbags.

Driver side air bags have been federally mandated since 1994, and passenger airbags have been federally mandated for all vehicles since 1999. Since then, side impact air bags have been developed to further protect motorists and their passengers. While many automobile manufacturers and dealers offer vehicles that feature side impact air bags as standard equipment, many offer these valuable safety features only as part of a large and expensive package option. People should have the opportunity to purchase side impact air bags without the added costs of the extra features included in package options. In order to address this issue, I have introduced bill A.11341-A. This bill would mandate that automobile dealers and manufacturers offer air bags as either standard features or as an item that can be purchased independent of a package of options. This bill would pertain only to new vehicles sold within New York State.

While air bags save lives and have the capacity to greatly increase our personal safety, it is still necessary to maintain other safety precautions such as continuing to wear a seat belt. Air bags were meant to work in conjunction with seat belts; seat belts are necessary to maximize the air bags’ efficiency. A 1996 study by NHTSA shows that when air bags and seat belts are used together, they have a 47% success rate in saving lives.

The safety benefits that air bags afford far outweigh any risks that they pose, especially when the following NHTSA recommended precautions are taken. Infants in rear facing child safety seats should not be placed on the front seat with an air bag. They should be placed only in the back seat. Children under the age of twelve are also at risk for sustaining air bag-related injury, so it is recommended that they also sit in the back seat; it is also suggested that adults sit keeping their chests a minimum of ten to twelve inches away from the air bag compartment in order to allow the air bag sufficient space and time to fully inflate, maximizing the efficiency of the air bag and minimizing the chance of injury.

This article is intended to provide you with basic information on air bag safety. If you would like more information regarding air bags and air bag safety, please contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at its website, at http://www. nhtsa.dot.gov/ airbags/ or call their hotline at 1-800-424-9393.


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