With one of the worst anti-consumer, environmental and tax reform records in Congress, Representative H. G. Shuster (R-Pa.) is straining these days to preserve the right of Americans to be killed on the highways. He has solicited about 150 members of the House to co-sponsor his resolution to overturn Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams’ recent decision requiring the auto manufacturers to provide consumers with automatic safety systems. Most of Shuster’s co-sponsors are confirmed opponents of the auto safety law. We can thank Mr. Shuster for bringing them together for voter identification. Congress passed the legislation in 1966 to require the auto companies to build cars that would increase the survivability of human beings on the highways. Their metallic ideology applied to drugs would have fought laws preventing corporate enterprise from selling thalidomide to pregnant women. They must gnash their teeth over existing lifesaving federal safety standards for steering columns (collapsible in a crash to avoid impaling the driver), windshields (less likely to lacerate faces and heads of accident victims) and padded dash panels (to minimize crushed skulls). How dare Uncle Sam do this to the auto companies?
ABOUT 20 OF the 150 co-sponsors do not fit in that cold-blooded category. They have been known to occasionally support consumer issues. So I called some of them for an explanation. One western Congressman hardly remembered he was a cosponsor. Shuster tapped his shoulder one day on the House floor and he nodded. It took three minutes to explain the case for manufacturers fitting their cars with automatic safety systems before he acknowledged that he had made a mistake. As is customary when Congressmen find themselves in such embarrassment, he would not take his name off of the resolution but he indicated he would vote against it.
Another mid-western Congressman couldn’t even remember Shuster’s name when he returned to his office after giving his “uh huh” to Shuster’s invitation. Others acknowledged that they had not heard any of the overwhelming evidence behind these automatic safety systems, such as air cushions. One legislator said he went on the resolution because he mistakenly thought it was advancing auto safety. Shuster, like any politician who represents corporations over people, says he is fighting to overturn the Adams decision because he doesn’t believe the air bag is either effective or cost efficient. Look, for example, at the diversity of those who disagree with those two assertions: all auto safety directors in the Department of Transportation since Lyndon Johnson; two top GM executives both before and after they left the company; President Ford’s Secretary of Transportation William Coleman; conservative columnist George Will; virtually the entire insurance industry; the United Auto Workers; consumer groups specializing in auto safety; the public at large as shown in Gallup poll results; and the AAA.
The AAA, in a commendable change of mind on July 1, 1977, supported mandatory “installation of passive restraint crash-protection systems in all automobiles.” A spokesman even added that AAA would like to see these systems installed in all models sooner than the leisurely 1982 to 1984 schedule permitted by Secretary Adams.
SHUSTER IS MAKING wild and reckless charges against the air bag in an attempt to camouflage his penchant for championing the causes of big business. Already tested on 12,000 cars which have traveled 500 million miles, air bags have never failed to inflate in a crash. They have saved lives and injuries. Once on all cars they will save more in insurance premiums than the small initial cost (less than the price of a vinyl roof) to the motorist. Shuster’s pseudo-figures try to show that cars with air bags may be less safe than today’s cars with unused belts. He claims that 44 percent of all motorists now use their seat belt-shoulder harness.
He should watch a few thousand cars go by on the highway if he wants a quick refutation of that absurd claim.
Crash-tested again and again in, both industry and government proving ground tests, air bags have undergone more reliability measures than any previously promulgated government auto safety standard for new equipment. Moreover, Secretary. Adams’ performance standard doesn’t require air bags, as Shuster repeatedly errs in stating. Air bags are only one of several ways the car makers can choose to meet the performance standard four to six leisurely years from now.
Auto companies opposed to Adams’ decision are publicly steering clear of Shuster, in part due to the extremism that he displays. But privately Ford Motor Company, according to Shuster’s aide, is ‘supporting us . .informing their people . . . . The Ford Motor Company has been very helpful.” This is the same Ford Motor Company whose boss, Henry Ford, II, said in April: “And we build lots of lousy cars, no question about it; can’t deny that.”
Neither can we, Henry.
(Readers interested in materials on automatic Crash Protection, 1220 19th St., N.W., Suite 201, Wash., D.C. 20036.)