UT Vehicle Safety Engineering Advises NTSB (245)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– While work continues on new “smart” airbags, those now in cars and trucks should not be disconnected, the director of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s engineering institute for trauma and injury said Wednesday.

 Dr. Tyler Kress, who also is a member of a National Transportation Safety Board airbag advisory panel, said improvements can be made in design of the safety restraint systems. He also disputes findings of a Harvard study that says no children have been saved by airbags.

 “We must steer away from the one-size-fits-all concept and have custom-deployed airbags that fit the user and the accident situation as well as possible,” Kress said. “In the meantime, we should keep using the ones we’ve got.

“Deactivating them because people are afraid would only lead to more highway deaths.”

 Smart airbags sense occupants’ position, weight, height and proximity from the dashboard, Kress said. They have sensors to detect crash severity and variable-rate inflators to deploy the bag accordingly, he said.

 The Harvard study says the public overrates airbag effectiveness and that 38 children have been killed and none saved by the devices.

 “I have a hard time believing no child has been saved by an airbag,” Kress said. “If the public thinks airbags are very effective at saving lives and reducing injuries, they are correct.

 “I don’t think most people have a misconception about airbags being too safe.”

 NTSB is expected to rule within a month on whether owners can disconnect airbags in their vehicles.

 —

 Contact: Dr. Tyler Kress (423-974-3982)