- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Whether you are harmed or killed as a result of malice or simple stupidity doesn't make much difference once you're in the ground. So former Carter-era National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) head Joan Claybrook's recent, belated apology for the flood of dangerous falsehoods about air bags she turned loose some 20 years ago is not much comfort to the more than 150 people who've been killed and the thousands who've been injured by these "safety" devices.

Speaking to the issue of NHTSA's declining credibility with the public given the ongoing fiasco over air bags, Miss Claybrook recently admitted that NHTSA's false or inaccurate claims over the years have "hurt" the agency's reputation and believability.

She ought to know.

While NHTSA administrator, Miss Claybrook was a tireless cheerleader for air bags and the source for many of the egregiously inaccurate or false claims that have dogged air bags ever since.

Among other things, she argued that air bags were necessary because of then-chronic underuse of safety belts. She said that air bags could actually supplant seat belts and would provide superior protection. Of course, it is precisely the unbuckled occupant who is most likely to be killed or maimed by a deploying air bag.

Miss Claybrook, like her mentor Ralph Nader, also claimed that air bags were the safest way to arrest the forward movement of an unbuckled child in a frontal impact. A few weeks ago, in fact, an Associated Press photo surfaced depicting Mr. Nader demonstrating an air bag simulator with an unbuckled young girl.

Placing an unbuckled child in the path of a deploying air bag, however, is the best way to put that child in a grave. Almost all of the children who've been killed by air bags were either unbuckled or in improperly situated child safety seats. Mr. Nader and Miss Claybrook have yet to be called to account for their dangerously misleading advocacy. Miss Claybrook, as NHTSA administrator, also put forth the utterly unsubstantiated claim that air bags would save up to 9,000 lives annually. No factual evidence was ever given in support of this gratuitous assertion. It is looked upon with derision by knowledgeable industry analysts.

True, air bags have certainly saved lives. But there is no question that they have also killed. No other safety device required by federal law has such a mixed record of success. Instead of reconsidering the federal mandate requiring the installation of air bags in all new cars and trucks, NHTSA and the montage of "safety advocates" responsible for this ill-considered edict are pressing for elaborate technical fixes that may only worsen the problem.

How many people will have to die before the government concedes it made a mistake by ignoring the engineers and listening instead to know-nothing busybodies such as Madam Claybrook is anybody's guess.

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