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U.S. Expected To Approve Softer Air Bags

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 20, 1996

Under pressure from a rising death toll and an intense media spotlight, U.S. government regulators are expected within a few days to approve a depowering of air bags in new cars and trucks.

Official word of a decision could come as soon as today, said Barry Felrice, a former federal government auto safety regulator who now works for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Most of the children killed by air bags - the total is believed to be 31 nationwide since 1991 - have been infants in rear-facing child seats or youngsters not wearing seat belts. Air bags inflate at up to 200 mph and also have been blamed for the deaths of 19 adults.

Experts say short people are most vulnerable because they tend to sit close to the air bag compartments.

Neither of the proposals under consideration for allowing a reduction of air-bag power would affect cars on the road or those on assembly lines.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also considering allowing car makers to install switches to permit drivers to deactivate their passenger-side air bags.


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