Status of Two Department of Transportation Air Bag Projects

RCED-84-177: Published: Sep 10, 1984. Publicly Released: Oct 10, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed two air bag projects administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). One of the projects is a joint effort with the General Services Administration (GSA) to purchase motor-pool cars with driver-side air bag systems. The other project is a contract with a private firm to design and produce air bag retrofit kits to be installed on the driver side of police cars.

GAO found that NHTSA is authorized to conduct its air bag projects as research and development activities and to promote or encourage motor fleet owners to place orders for cars with air bags. Furthermore, NHTSA plans to promote the use of air bags do not appear to create an undue competitive advantage for the auto manufacturer that will supply the air-bag-equipped GSA fleet cars. The air-bag-equipped cars for the joint project will be delivered beginning in October 1984 at an incremental cost to NHTSA of an estimated $1,050 per car. A private firm is required to test its air bag system prior to delivering the air bag-equipped cars to GSA, and NHTSA will evaluate the test data based on federal safety standards. The air bag retrofit kits for the state police projects were installed beginning in December 1983 and NHTSA expects all kits to be installed by September 1984. NHTSA has tested the air bag retrofit system and the majority of the tests were successful. While the two air bag projects will not provide statistically significant data on the effectiveness of air bags in reducing car injuries and fatalities, the projects are expected to provide useful information on: (1) the auto industry's air bag production capability; (2) the performance, reliability, and maintainability of air bags; and (3) whether fleet drivers will accept air bags. Finally, GAO found that NHTSA is aware of the technical issues regarding air bag disposal and the design of passenger-side air bags.

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