The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month announced new rules that require improved safety protection in new passenger vehicles by September 2012. Specifically, the rules mandate better head protection, and that will probably be provided by manufacture through the use of side and window curtain air bags. Side-impact crashes killed 9,200 people in 2005, the most recent figures available.
Automakers agreed in 2003 to install side air bags in all new passenger vehicles by September 2009, and the safety equipment is becoming more widely available.
Dave McCurdy, the head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and others, said they shared NHTSA’s goal of “enhancing head protection” in side crashes.
Safety groups have pointed to the benefits of side air bags. A study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that driver deaths were reduced by 52 percent in sport utility vehicles equipped with head-protecting side air bags, while the same air bags reduced driver deaths by 37 percent in passenger cars.