WASHINGTON -- Motorists on the nation's highways this Labor Day weekend will be seeing rolling reminders that air bags can kill and injure people, especially children.
To reduce deaths and injuries from the powerful deployment of air bags, trucks with billboards on their sides will take to major highways as part of an education campaign financed by the National Automotive Occupant Protection Campaign, a coalition of automakers, insurers and safety groups.
Targeted to reach the record 33 million travelers expected to hit the roads this weekend, the billboards warn: "Alert. Air Bag Safety. Everyone buckled. Kids in Back."
The danger behind the somewhat cryptic message is deadly serious.
Since 1993, 24 children have been killed by air bags. Most of the children were either not wearing seat belts or were seated too close to the air bag when it deployed, federal safety officials say. At least seven were infants killed because they were in rear-facing child seats.
Rear-facing child seats should never be put in the front seat of a vehicle with air bags, safety officials say.
The deaths of 18 adults also have been blamed on air bags. Most of the adults who died also were not wearing seat belts or were frail or elderly adults seated too close to the air bag, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In crashes, even in minor ones, air bags explode from dashboards at speeds of 200 mph. While the bags have been credited with saving 1,500 lives since 1987, that force has proved most deadly for some children. Seat belts and child safety seats help protect children from air bags.
But this year, for the first time, safety officials are warning that adults and children are less likely to be injured by an air bag if they're wearing seat belts, and children are even safer if they're buckled up in a rear seat.
"Our message is simple ... air bags save lives when properly used," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez.
The mobile billboards will travel Interstates 5, 95 and 80/90, and make stops in some cities.
The 33 million Americans planning trips this holiday will travel at least 100 miles from home, up 2 percent from last year, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted.
This weekend will cap one of the busiest travel seasons ever, the AAA reported. A healthy economy and lower gas prices are credited with encouraging more Americans to take to the highways.
The Labor Day weekend kicks off a yearlong air bag education campaign.
"Labor Day is one of the most heavily traveled holidays and a natural time for us to reach out to the nation with our safety message," said Janet Dewey, director of the air bag education campaign.
"This holiday effort is just the first in a series of actions as part of a coordinated campaign ... to make Americans aware of both the benefits and risks of air bags."
Pub Date: 8/30/96