AUTO SAFETY: The Great Air-Bag Debate

Each year, about 54,000 Americans die in auto accidents, and another 2,000,000 suffer disabling injuries. Safety belts and shoulder harnesses would help reduce the carnage, if motorists wore them. According to Government surveys, only 30% of riders buckle into the belts, and a mere 5% use the harnesses. To protect people more effectively, the Department of Transportation has ordered that all 1974 model cars be equipped with some kind of passive restraint, which in effect means "air bags": huge porous plastic bags that must pop out like balloons between motorist and instrument panel. They must inflate within forty-thousandths of...

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