Ms. Claybrook Did Not Put the Killer in the Air Bag
Yet another inaccurate personal attack on me in an editorial ("Killer air bags," Dec. 3) needs to be corrected.
First, your statement that I "imposed an air bag mandate on nervous automakers" is completely wrong. Although the government safety standard was initially effective in 1988 models, no company was required to offer air bags for cars until September 1996 (September 1997 for vans and trucks). The government safety standard always permitted passive belts, not just air bags, but most auto companies have chosen to install air bags, which have now saved more than 1,600 lives.
Though I am complimented that you attribute their introduction to me, the credit is not all mine. It was Richard Nixon's secretary of transportation, John Volpe, who issued the first mandate in 1970. General Motors (GM) President Ed Cole energetically supported the air bag cause in the early 1970s (GM promised in 1970 that it would voluntarily make air bags available on all its cars by the 1975 model year). He recommended air bags as "the only way to go," and suggested that "the only way to get them to first base is making them mandatory."
In addition, three more secretaries of transportation, William Coleman, Brock Adams and Elizabeth Dole, supported air bags. Elizabeth Dole issued the current passive restraint standard during the Reagan administration and encouraged manufacturers to introduce air bags through a credit incentive system. Sen. John Warner and retired Sen. John Danforth also played instrumental roles in Congress, ensuring that the public had the opportunity to buy air bags, and it was Lee Iacocca who decided in 1988 to put air bags in all Chrysler cars, admitting publicly that an old dog can learn new tricks.
Second, when GM suggested in September 1979 that it had concerns about the dangers of air bags to out-of-position children, I described the company's evidence as "fragmentary and speculative," just as you suggest. …