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Crash damaged GM SDM / EDR / black box air bag module
Rare. Crash damaged GM SDM / EDR / black box air bag module. ©
 
GM air bag black box / EDR / event data recorder / SDM /
deployment crash data recovery for 1994-2017 General Motors, 
Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Oldsmobile,
Pontiac and Saturn vehicles using the Bosch / Vetronix
CDR crash data retrieval tool.

 

Logan Diagnostic offers air bag deployment crash data retrieval via the air bag SDM module for General Motors (GM) vehicles. This can only be done using the Bosch / Vetronix crash data retrieval tool (CDR) and a PC. The air bag SDM recorder can offer extremely important vehicle data in the final 5 seconds leading up to an accident event. GM dealers do not use the Bosch / Vetronix CDR tool. 


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General Motors 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 'ACRS' air bag history:

General Motors first air bag equipped vehicle. The 1973 Chevrolet Impala
General Motors first air bag equipped vehicle. The 1973 Chevrolet Impala.

Some interesting notes about the General Motors 1973-1974-1975-1976 ACRS 'air cushion restraint system':


Both Ford and General Motors began inflatable restraint experimentation in the late '50s based on John Hetrick's 1953 patent.

Ford had planned on introducing air bag equipped vehicles for the 1971 model year. The program was shelved at the end of 1969 due to insurmountable problems.

B
oth GM and Ford were stymid by two tall technical hurdles: accurately and reliably sensing the need for crash protection and inflating the air bag in roughly 40 milliseconds.

1973- General Motors manufactures 1,000 Chevrolets equipped with experimental air bags and provides them to fleet customers for testing. Infant, unrestrained on the passenger seat of one of the experimental Chevrolets, is killed when a passenger bag deploys in a wreck. GM considers that the first air bag fatality.

1974-1976 GM offers air bags as a option on select GM vehicles. At the time, the optional air bag system cost $180- $300 in 1974 dollars.

The 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado is considered the first production GM vehicle to offer a air bag system as a option.
GM had set up production to allow 100,000 air bag units to be produced each year. In reality, GM only sold 10,321 air bag equipped vehicles over a three year period.

GM owned AC Electronics provided the accelerometers used in these early air bag systems. They originally had been designed and developed for the Boeing 747 inertial navigation system.

At the time, GM's first generation air bags were the most sophisticated electro-mechanical system engineered for an automobile.To facilitate detailed crash data and analysis of the events after a major collision, GM's electronic- monitoring system was fitted with a set of sensors to record and quantify the crash sequence. Basically, the air bag crash data was being recorded back in 1974.

7
years after GM withdrew its optional air bag, Mercedes Benz offered an air bag equipped vehicle.



Rare 1973-1976 GM air bag test equipment. Kent Moore tool J-24628. ©



                         Interesting letter to the editor New York Times. February 7,1993



"Dear Sir,


Your Jan. 17 column contained a letter from a gentleman who owns a 1974 Oldsmobile with dual air bags. "After almost 20 years," the letter said, "G.M. refuses responsibility as to whether they will actually deploy." While it doesn't surprise me that General Motors would refuse to commit itself, I do think they could have pointed out to the owner that such old cars have been tested and the air bags work fine.


We at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have crashed two 1973 Chevrolet Impalas with driver and passenger air bags. One of these barrier tests was conducted at 30 m.p.h. The car, which had been driven more than 100,000 miles and then stored for years in a shed, had to be towed to the test track. The only service it received involved replacing the battery. When crashed into the barrier, both bags deployed perfectly.
 

In the other test, conducted just last month at the Institute's new Vehicle Research Center, an Impala manufactured in 1972 was crashed head-on into a barrier at 25 m.p.h. This car also had been driven more than 100,000 miles, and neither the clock nor the radio worked. But the air bags worked perfectly.


General Motors has a long history of being on-again/off-again when it comes to air bags. It pioneered the bags in production cars during the 1970's. But it then fought them for the next 20 years. What's important to remember at this point is that the air bags G.M. put into those early cars worked fine -- and so do the bags in the cars of today.

BRIAN O'NEILL Arlington, Va.
Brian O'Neill is the president of the Institute for Highway Safety, a scientific and educational organization supported by the insurance industry. "



Early GM airbag system testing. 1974 Oldsmobile shown
Early GM airbag system testing. 1974 Oldsmobile 98 shown.
1974 GM air bag service manual image. Note the 'sensor recorder' module.
1974 Oldsmobile promotional ACRS brochure image
1974 Oldsmobile promotional ACRS brochure image. Note the NASA rocket blasting off in the image background.
GM president Ed Cole shows off the new 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado air cushion restraint system

GM president Ed Cole shows off the new 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado air cushion restraint system. Ed Cole is also considered to be the father of the Chevrolet small block V8 engine.  Ed Cole retired from General Motors in 1974. He died in a plane crash near Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1977.


 
 
 
1972 GM Safety Car
'GM Safety Car'. In 1972, GM sold this experimental safety car to NHTSA for $1 as its contribution to demonstrate advanced safety features. Heavily reinforced side pillars, air bags, and thick interior padding protected passengers in crashes up to 30 mph. The car was shown at the 1972 Detroit Auto Show.
GM full size vehicles were redesigned for the 1977 model year without optional air bags. Not until 1988 did GM offer another air bag equipped vehicle. The 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88 / 98 offered a optional drivers side air bag.
 

GM air bag deployment criteria:


Basically, there are 2 types of air bag systems. Mechanical and electronic deployment detection. Older GM systems would be considered mechanical detection. Most mid 1990 and newer GM vehicles would be considered electronic detection.

  • Mechanical deployment detection: "A frontal crash of sufficient force up to 30 degrees off the centerline of the vehicle will deploy the air bags. "
  • Electronic deployment detection: "A sufficient change in acceleration on the vehicle X axis will deploy the air bags."

The air bags are NOT pillows
An airbag deployment is a very rapid, forceful event. Airbags must deploy at very high speeds so they are nearly fully inflated before the occupant begins to move forward and contact the vehicle's interior.

An airbag is NOT a pillow or cushion. Due to the force with which a deploying airbag inflates, close or direct contact with the airbag while it is deploying can cause serious or fatal injuries. For safety, always seat your children only in the rear seat.


When the front air bags WILL deploy

Front airbags are designed to deploy in moderate to severe frontal collisions. The airbag deployment speed is chosen to reduce the risk of injury in a crash. Even at low speeds, crash forces can cause disabling and painful injuries, which the airbag and seat belt can prevent.


When the front air bags will NOT deploy

Front airbags are NOT intended to deploy in side-impact, rear-impact or rollover crashes. In addition, airbags will not deploy in frontal crashes below the deployment threshold speed. Seat belts are the primary means of protection to the occupants in these crashes.

Seat belts must always be worn to provide maximum protection in ALL types of crashes.

 

 


Most air bags systems use solid sodium azide (NaN3) as the propellant for
deployment. The fuel pellets are converted to nitrogen gas during deployment.

Takata air bags use ammonium nitrate as the propellant.

 
Federal mandated passenger presence system (PPS). May require calibration / rezeroed using a GM Tech 2.
Seat belt pre-tensioner. Like a mini air bag, the seat belt pre-tensioner will deploy to snug the belt up during a accident event. Pretensioners can deploy without frontal air bag deployment. This one is not deployed. ©
GM Tech 2 factory / dealership diagnostic scanner. Great tool, we have one. But the Tech 2 cannot download the EDR vehicle crash data.
 
 
More airbagcrash web site pages
 
 


GM Technical service bulletin TSB Class 2 trouble code B1000, B1001, B1271, B1780


Class 2 Serial Data Communication allows control modules (i.e. the Powertrain Control Module (PCM), the Body Control Module (BCM), the Dash Integration Module (DIM), the Instrument Panel Cluster (IPC), the radio, the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Controller, and the Sensing and Diagnostic Module (SDM) to exchange information. This information may be operational information or identification information. Among the identification information exchanged and compared within these modules is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Typically the one module, the master module, broadcasts the VIN and all the other modules compare the VIN stored within itself. When the broadcast VIN does not match the VIN stored within the SDM, the following actions occur:

    •  DTC B1001 Option Configuration Error is set and deployment of the airbags is inhibited.
    •  DTC B1271 or a DTC B1780 Theft Locked.
         The VIN information is also used by the radio. When the VIN does not match the VIN stored within the radio, DTC B1271 or DTC B1780 is set and the radio is inoperative.

Additionally, the master module will compare the SDM's part number (last four digits) to determine if the correct SDM is installed in the vehicle. If the SDM is the wrong part, a B1001 will also set.

This situation may occur when a vehicle is being repaired. When a PCM or a body control type module is replaced, the VIN information must be programmed into the replaced (new) control module. A module which has had VIN information entered into it (for example, one taken from another vehicle) cannot be reprogrammed. VIN information can only be entered into new modules. The ignition must be ON in order to program the control module. Since the VIN information is broadcast when the ignition goes to ON from any other ignition switch position, DTCs may be set in the SDM and/or the radio. Therefore, always follow the specified control module replacement procedures.



GM position statement on installation of used, salvage, or imitation air bag system components: TSB 08-09-41-003


Due to the critical nature of the design of Supplemental Inflatable Restraint Systems (SIR) (also known as air bag systems), GM does not support the use of any used, salvage, or imitation parts for repair. Only new, genuine GM warranted parts should be used in repair.

Proper operation of the air bag system requires that any repairs to the vehicle be made with new, GM warranted parts. Never use air bag parts from another vehicle or source. The reasons for this policy and practice within GM include the following:

Occupant Protection

Air bag system components are carefully developed and specifically tuned for the specific vehicle environment. Corresponding air bag system components from other models or other model years may appear similar from the outside and may even fit the vehicle, but different internal elements or calibrations may result in degraded restraint performance.

Regulatory Compliance

All new GM vehicles are designed and built to meet or exceed all applicable Canadian and U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Use of air bag system components, other than those specified, could result in degraded restraint performance and, under some circumstances, could render the system inoperative. A repair establishment that knowingly makes a regulated safety system inoperative violates the Safety Act and becomes liable accordingly. The repair establishment also risks liability for losses or damage resulting from the repair.

Reliability

Reuse of used or salvaged components brings into question the conditions under which the components were obtained and stored prior to use. Components could have been damaged or stored under unfavorable conditions that could compromise performance and reliability.

Warranty

The use of new parts is consistent with the vehicle factory warranty and extended warranty programs.

In summary, new GM parts remain General Motor’s recommendation for repairs involving air bags systems and components. Air bag systems can best be returned to appropriate levels of performance when new GM parts are used.


 

 

1996 USA Today article about air bags, politics, and auto makers.

DEADLY AIR BAGS How a government prescription for safety became a threat to children (USA Today) James R. Healey; Jayne O'Donnell; 07-08-1996

Imagine a heavyweight boxer bashing a child in the face. That's how accident investigators described the force of the passenger' s air bag that killed 9-year-old Nathan German in March 1995.

``The pastor had to hold me up when I saw how swollen his head was in the casket,'' says Nathan's father, Ken German, a geophysicist in Houston.
Nathan is one of 23 people -- 22 of them children from 1 week to 9 years old -- known to have been killed since 1993 by what is supposed to be a safety device: the passenger air bag. Most deaths occurred in crashes so minor that everyone else walked away.

``Americans remain in the dark as to the terrible danger to which their children are exposed,'' says Robert Sanders of Baltimore, father of 7-year-old Alison Sanders. Alison was killed by a passenger air bag last October in a low-speed crash.
In the dark, indeed. Passenger air bags are killing twice as many children as they are saving, according to an analysis of government data done for USA TODAY. If current trends continue, the data say 20 children will be killed by passenger bags this year, 10 saved. The auto industry and the government do not dispute the analysis.
Most victims won't be properly belted, according to the analysis. But unrestrained occupants are the very group air bags are designed to save. And there is new evidence that even properly belted children are in jeopardy.

Eight children are known to have been killed by passenger bags this year. The past two years, two children -- both properly belted -- are known to have suffered brain damage from passenger air bags. Another was temporarily blinded.
The numbers sharpen the debate over the value of passenger air bags.

``We're working full time to cope with this,'' says a worried Ricardo Martinez, chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which in September will announce new rules to make air bags safer. ``Your safety equipment shouldn't harm you.'' His boss, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, declares: ``we don't save lives at the expense of children.''

Part of the problem is the government's own regulation. It says air bags must protect the average adult male not wearing a seat belt in a head-on crash. Bags that inflate powerfully enough to cushion a hurtling man are a menace to children's less-durable physiques. Small, frail adults are at risk, too. But only one adult is known killed by a passenger bag -- a small woman in her 80s.

Nearly 22 million cars and light trucks have passenger air bags. The number killed by passenger bags is likely to get worse as more bags are installed in response to the government's 1999 deadline requiring all new cars and trucks to have passenger bags.

Driver's side bags aren't as big a problem. Drivers mainly are adults sitting in the proper position for bags to do the most good and least harm. And drivers usually wear seat belts, which keep them away from the bag until it's had time to fill with gas and become a cushion instead of a 200-mph projectile.

Overall, air bags save more lives than they take. Last year, driver and passenger bags saved 570 lives and took 12, including eight children, the government says. USA TODAY's investigation deals with the specific danger passenger bags pose to children 12 and under.

Growing evidence of passenger bags' tendency to harm children has regulators, safety activists, insurers and the auto industry squirming. ``People in Washington don't like to say anyone made a mistake,'' says National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall. But, ``it clearly may be time to re-evaluate the technology,'' he says.


For years, federal regulators and safety advocates ignored industry warnings that passenger air bags could kill kids. Now, the government is in the awkward position of fumbling for ways to minimize the danger of a government-required safety device.


`Why did all these children have to die?'
Getting to that point of illogic took nearly three decades of political trade-offs and self-serving decisions. Well-intentioned safety crusaders had to work up such distrust of automakers that the automakers' warnings could be dismissed. Car companies had to conveniently set aside their own misgivings about passenger bags once buyers wanted them. And Congress had to battle over safety devices and decide in 1991 that air bags were the only right answer.


``Why did all these children have to die?'' laments Mark Oliver of Bountiful, Utah, grandfather of 5-year-old Jordan West, killed by a passenger air bag last October.

``If I had the information I'm privy to now, this wouldn't have happened.'' His wife, Lynn, never would have put Jordan in the front seat of her Camaro. Jordan wouldn't have been in the path of what Oliver calls ``a lethal bomb in the dashboard' ' when the Camaro bumped a concrete planter in a parking lot at about 10 mph and triggered the passenger air bag. It twisted the boy's head and killed him. His grandmother's driver's bag inflated, too. She suffered minor injuries from the air bag, none from the accident.

The deaths of Jordan and other kids were forecast by the auto industry.

In 1969 -- 27 years ago, the same year that the Nixon administration proposed so-called passive restraints to protect people not wearing seat belts -- General Motors waved the warning flag. At a government- sponsored safety conference that August, GM was blunt:
``A small child close to an instrument panel from which an air cushion is deployed may, in our present estimation, be severely injured or even killed.''

Nonetheless, the federal push was for bags. ``Nixon's Transportation secretary, John Volpe, fell in love with air bags and was incredibly enthusiastic,'' recalls Joan Claybrook, central figure in the air bag debate and vigorous backer of bags then and now. She was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981 and had been a lower-ranking government safety official 1966- 70.


Volpe's enthusiasm was a threat to Detroit's auto industry. Detroit thought safety didn't sell. The Big Three automakers felt every dollar spent meeting government regulations was a dollar stolen from developing features to make cars more attractive to buyers. Two powerful auto men took that message to the White House April 1971.

Henry Ford II, head of the namesake Car Company, went with then-Ford- president Lee Iacocca to see Nixon. They wanted the president's help stopping air bags and other government safety devices. Detroit had to husband its capital to battle rivals and couldn't afford the time or money fooling with federal rules, they said. ``The Japs are in the wings, ready to eat us up alive,'' Iacocca told Nixon in a conversation captured by the secret taping setup that felled Nixon in the Watergate burglary coverup.

The President was sympathetic. He called air bags ``these damn gadgets, '' and said, ``the seat belt is enough.''

Nixon dispatched aide John Ehrlichman to dissuade Volpe, who later delayed until 1976 his requirement for automatic passenger restraints, including air bags.


Meantime, automakers tried seat belt interlocks. The car wouldn't start if the belts weren't buckled. ``The public hated it,'' Claybrook recalls. ``Even my mother was berserk-o over the interlocking belts. Everybody got them unhooked.''


Support for bags continued. Only 12% of people wore seat belts. Safety enthusiasts were looking for something that worked without any involvement from the occupants. Air bags seemed perfect. ``The technology is magnificent, '' Claybrook says. ``It is so adjustable and adaptable.''

That level of enthusiasm worried early critics; mainly auto engineers who knew about possible harm from bags.

One was Roy Hauesler, chief safety engineer at Chrysler in the late '60s. He was hardly an anti- safety daredevil. In fact, he sometimes wore a crash helmet as well as a seat belt when he drove his own car. Advocates who saw bags as a panacea, an alternative to seat belts instead of a supplement, troubled him.
Industry research made concerns like Hauesler's seem valid.

A 1974 Volvo report, Possible Effects of Airbag Inflation on a Standing Child, used baby pigs weighing 31 to 33 pounds as surrogates for children 3 to 6 years old standing near dashboards and not wearing safety belts. The pigs were anesthetized, positioned 4 to 6 inches from the passenger air bag and subjected to the equivalent of 17.5-mph crashes, the minimum required triggering the bags.

The bags killed eight of 24 pigs; 13 were badly hurt.

A 1976 report by Emile Grenier, a former Ford safety engineer, warned that out-of-position children and adults could be killed by passenger air bags. He repeated Hauesler's warning against air bag extremists promoting bags as alternatives -- not supplements -- to seat belts. Belts were needed, he insisted, to prevent sliding under the bag or being ejected in a crash.
Despite alarms, President Carter's Transportation Secretary, Brock Adams, appointed Claybrook head of NHTSA and announced in 1977 that new cars, beginning with '84 models, must have front air bags or so- called passive belts that fasten without action by driver or passenger. The rule phased in 1982-84.

Claybrook recalls`` we were sued in '77 by the automakers for the timing and by Ralph Nader for the lead-time. We got it from both sides.'' Automakers said it was too abrupt. Nader, a fan of bags and critic of the auto industry, argued that NHTSA was giving automakers too much time.

Objections from automakers, especially GM, ``didn't ring true because General Motors offered air bags for sale '74 to the early part of '76,'' Claybrook says. There had been, she says, ``tremendous energy and enthusiasm (for air bags) at GM in that period.'' How could a company offer bags if it believed reports of danger, as far back as '69, she and other regulators wondered?

Their skepticism extended to all the U.S. automakers, in fact. Detroit was seen as naysayer, quick to reject whatever the government or other outsiders demanded.
That anti-auto attitude had begun as a murmur with Nader's 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, critical of GM's Corvair economy car and Detroit safety features generally. It increased to a stage whisper when GM admitted hiring private detectives to probe Nader's financial backing and personal life, then had to apologize and pay Nader a settlement. The voice got a bullhorn when activist Claybrook was named head of NHTSA.
What began as skepticism toward a malingering industry eroded into cynicism that apparently blinded and deafened air bag advocates to what proved prescient warnings from car companies. Insurers and people in general shared government mistrust of automakers. In turn, automakers became contemptuous of regulators and activists.
Faulty analysis; Claybrook dismisses warnings
In 1979, Claybrook accused car companies of stalling on air bags, which she said would save 9,000 lives a year once they were in all cars. When GM said that year it was postponing installation of passenger bags at least two years because of safety concerns, Claybrook declared support for bags: ``I don't think there is any question in my mind that there is any better restraint device put on the unrestrained child.''

Even if GM concerns were valid, she said then, ``the trade-off in terms of saving thousands of lives clearly outweighs these extraordinary and infrequent risks.'' That same year, '79, the government's own watchdog General Accounting Office weighed in with a by-then familiar warning: Out-of-position occupants are in danger from air bags. Claybrook dismissed the GAO critique as a faulty analysis that relied too heavily on data spoon-fed by a foot-dragging auto industry.

Today, Claybrook, president of Nader-founded Public Citizen, says air-bag deaths are ``very troubling.'' But she says the fault is with parents, because ``kids belong in the back seat,'' and with the auto industry, which should have heeded its own warnings and developed kid-safe air bags that also meet the government's requirement for protecting unbelted adults.


``The auto companies knew from that early work there was a potential for a problem but also a potential remedy. Maybe we underestimated the responsibility of the auto industry.''

That logic gives auto engineers fits. They view themselves as air- bag supporters, too, but realistically concerned about harm to children. They recall their early warnings as attempts to slow the federal rulemakers until the technology was safe and reliable, not as delaying tactics.

GM safety engineer Bob Sinke has been involved in air-bag development since 1968 and is executive director of GM's safety center. He recalls meeting with insurance industry officials in the early '80s ``to identify where the insurance industry and General Motors had common ground on air bags. I discussed the potential side effects. We got into great detail about children being most vulnerable.'' But -- in a response typical of the government, too -- his cautions were unheeded. ``My general feeling was that these groups were really focused on the overall benefits and tended not to dwell on the side effects. They were driven, '' he says, by a belief that the benefits would outweigh harm.

It wasn't only GM waving a yellow flag.

Stern cautions also came from Iacocca, who had been fired by Ford and became CEO of Chrysler as well as plainspoken folk hero and anti- air-bag campaigner. He summed up his attitude bluntly in a 1984 autobiography, Iacocca: ``Air bags are one of those areas where the solution may actually be worse than the problem.'' He cites a retired safety engineer in Michigan who applied for a patent for a device using air bags as a quicker, more humane way to kill convicts than hanging or the electric chair.


``Air bags are not the answer,'' Iacocca wrote, resigned to a long national debate: ``when the crusaders get on their high horses, it' s impossible to stop them.''
Mistrust continued among those who could have worked together for safer air bags.
Lou Camp, Ford Motor's safety director since 1984, recalls meeting in '86 with Claybrook, then retired from NHTSA and active in the safety lobby, and with Nader protege Clarence Ditlow. Camp's pitch: A Ford proposal would benefit safety because it would keep passenger air bags out of cars for further refinement, while accelerating the installation of more-benign driver's-side bags. ``I can see Joan sitting in front of me right now. I was very honest with them and told them we would bring out air bags quicker (that way). But, frankly, they didn't trust us.''

The bag battle had expanded to Congress by the late '70s, helping polarize debate.

Anti-bag forces were led by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a champion of U.S. automakers, and Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa. Shuster was challenged to a car-crash duel by bag backer Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash. If Shuster thought bags were superfluous, Dicks baited, and the two of them should ram cars into a concrete wall at 25 mph: Dicks in a car with a bag, Shuster without. Shuster did not accept.

Other bag backers included Sen. John Warner, R-Va., whose support of bags was personal. His wife at the time, actress Elizabeth Taylor, refused to wear safety belts.

Waging 'the regulatory equivalent of war' on air bags.

Stuck in a debate in which positions seemed intractable, Congress and regulators in the '80s turned to seat belts. Why not force people to wear them as a way to save lives -- and get out of the air bag quagmire? Only one of eight was buckling up, and it was assumed no more ever would without pressure from the law. Today, there are mandatory seat-belt-use laws in every state but New Hampshire, and two-thirds of people buckle up. ``If we had passed mandatory belt laws in the '70s, we might never have had'' air bags, GM engineer Sinke says.

The Reagan administration, sympathetic to car companies, threw out the Carter-era air-bag requirement in 1981. But insurance companies, warming to the lifesaving potential of air bags, sued. The case went to the Supreme Court, where justices ruled against the government' s ``arbitrary and capricious'' revocation of the rule, and spanked car companies for waging ``the regulatory equivalent of war'' against air bags.

In the hot seat, Reagan's Transportation secretary, Elizabeth Dole, issued a rule in 1984 requiring automatic belts or air bags in all cars by 1990, but she included an escape route: If states representing two-thirds of the U.S. population enacted mandatory-use seat belt laws before April 1989, the passive-restraint regulation wouldn't take effect.
Diane Steed, NHTSA chief in the Reagan administration, says the ``issue was finding the right mix of technology and driving behavior. We knew that technology alone was not the answer.''

Automakers swung into a state-by-state lobbying push in favor of the laws, hoping to unplug air bags forever while simultaneously presenting themselves as safety advocates. Stopping air bags would avoid the costs of their development, concerns about their dangers and liability for their performance. And it would let Detroit focus on powerful engines and fancier interiors, which had proven easier to sell than safety features.
The move seemed transparent to safety activists and insurers. Their support for mandatory-use was lukewarm, sometimes non-existent. Without it, belt-use laws were viewed as benefiting only the auto industry. Not enough states signed on in time, and the passive-restraint mandate stayed in place. ``I always thought that if the so-called consumer advocates were truly safety advocates they would have promoted belt use,'' Steed says.

Though dual air bags were envisioned by regulators as the ultimate solution, the requirement for passive restraints permitted motorized belts and others that automatically fastened around the driver or passenger. So, still wary of the cost and consequences of passenger bags, automakers turned out a hodge-podge of restraints.Most used motorized belts. Those were unpopular with motorists because they could give clothing or body parts an unhealthy yank as they zipped into position. Customers got ``tired of being undressed'' by the belts, says Chrysler's Randy Edwards, in charge of making sure the automaker meets government regulations. Those belts also were disliked by safety buffs because they only maneuvered the shoulder strap; they didn't automatically fasten the lap portion of the belt. That had to be done manually. People were forgetting -- or rebelling.


Gradually, air bags began to seem like an easy way to quit bugging car buyers with pesky, motorized seat belts. Bags, after all, weren' t in the way. Except for some markings on the dashboard, passenger bags were inconspicuous. Chrysler learned at consumer clinics in the spring and fall of '87 that buyers really hated motorized belts.
Iacocca's spin move: Bags will be standard
Chrysler CEO Iacocca, a savvy marketer, then did a spin move that would make basketballer Michael Jordan jealous. After years of dumping on air bags as possibly deadly, Iacocca announced that Chrysler would be first to install them as standard equipment on the driver's side. The clinics showed that would be an easy call. Chrysler officials say now that technology improvements helped overcome Iacocca's objections.

Iacocca was popular, and his turnabout helped start a stampede to bags. The rush was on to trump him with passenger bags.

Chrysler ``stole the jump a bit on us back then,'' Ford's Camp says. Ford began offering optional passenger bags soon after on its Lincolns. The company still had concerns, but decided to accept that ``there' s a downside to the protection the air bags provide,'' Camp says. Besides, people were buckling up more, which made them less likely to be killed by passenger bags.

Chrysler decided it had to move fast. Air bags had become the hot feature. So Chrysler notched a string of firsts beyond Iacocca's announcement: First U.S. automaker to make driver's bags standard on all domestic- made cars in '90. First minivan driver-side bag in '91. First driver' s bag on a sport-utility vehicle in '93.

Then it put passenger bags into dramatically styled family cars launched in 1993 -- Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde, Eagle Vision.

It knew of potential danger to children from GM's pioneering work and installed the bags even though ``there was no testing done here on passenger air bags'' simulating unbelted children, Chrysler's Edwards says. ``I think we knew we were going to have these problems to some degree, but we were hoping to a very small degree.''

In 1991, the government got around to ordering what already was taking place. President Bush signed a law saying that only air bags -- not automatic belts -- would meet the passive restraint rule.
Consumer demand for bags has become irresistible, fueled by slow-motion ads showing puffy bags popping from the dashboard and steering wheel to gently cradle occupants. In real life, bags are violent.

When sensors near the front bumper determine the car is slowing so fast it must be in a crash, they trigger an ignition device that sets off a chemical called sodium azide. Within 1/40 of a second after the crash, the burning sodium azide produces nitrogen gas that expands into the nylon air bag folded and tucked into the dash or the steering wheel. The expanding bag rips through its vinyl cover at up to 200 mph and is fully inflated within 1/50 of a second after the crash. It immediately begins deflating. By 3/20 of a second after the crash, the bag is hanging limp and useless.

The same power that slams the bag toward the passenger also pushes heat, smoke and powder into the car. When they don't kill, bags often burn and bruise people and can break arms and shoulders.
Adverse reactions to a technological vaccine
The air bag is ``a technological vaccine,'' Claybrook says. ``Every vaccine harms children. Everyone knows there are adverse reactions. I know several children who are completely disabled mentally and partly physically from vaccines. There's a risk.''
A big one, according to the analysis for USA TODAY by Ted Miller, a safety economist with National Public Services Research Institute in Landover, Md. With federal statistics on front passenger seat fatalities by age group, the growing number of air bags on the road, and the number of children killed by air bags, he determined that two children are being killed by passenger bags for each one saved. ``This number is much more explosive'' than previous assumptions about the risk of passenger bags, says Miller, who does safety analysis for NHTSA, automakers and the insurance industry.

And those frightening numbers came only shortly after Miller's earlier analysis for USA TODAY that showed passenger bags would kill one child a week in the year 2000, shortly after they are standard on all new vehicles.

But statistics don't mean much to Carmen Sanchez: Her week-old daughter, Lissette, was killed by the passenger air bag June 30 in a Chicago fender bender.

``They always show children on TV when they are advertising air bags, '' she says. ``I figured if I get a car I'd be better off with dual air bags because I have children.''
Her view of the passenger bag now: ``It is wrong for it to be in the cars.''


Copyright 1996, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.


Typical air bag warning label