Statement of Clarence Ditlow on Nissan Altima Airbags That Blind Passengers
The passenger airbag in 1994-early 1995 Nissan Altima has a unique defect that demands immediate recall – a front passenger airbag that can strike the occupant square in the face before it unfolds and blind them. The incidence of serious face and eye injury in these models is 20 times that of other similar models surveyed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its pending investigation. As demonstrated in NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) 35-mph crash tests, the defect in these Altima’s is the airbag stays in a tightly rolled ball as it unfolds, goes back too far and strikes the passenger square in the face before it fully unfolds. As shown in NCAP tests of later models, Nissan modified Altima’s made after March 1995 so the passenger airbag does not go back as far, unfolds completely and does not strike the belted occupant in the face.
The full extent of Nissan’s modifications to the Altima in March 1995 is not known due to Nissan’s continuing requests for confidentiality. But this much is known. Nissan went to a smaller airbag, a different fold pattern, a single disk inflator and an electronic sensor. The changes Nissan made resulted in a safer airbag for which there are no know cases of blindness and permanent eye injury even though there are at least 4 times as many later made Altima’s on the road.
The Nissan Altima is a classic example of what the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen have said for years – not all airbags are created equal. There are design differences such as such as bag tethers; bag size, weight, shape and material; module location; deployment direction; dual deployment and no-deployment thresholds; multiple inflation pressure; peak pressure rise; crash sensors; occupant sensors; and punch out forces among others. We have tried through rulemaking and defect petitions, Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and dogged advocacy to provide the American public with what is known to every auto maker and NHTSA but is kept from consumers buying cars – i.e., design differences make some airbag systems safer than others. But we have been met with a stonewall of silence that results in needless deaths and injuries. Even companies such as Honda with far safer airbag systems share responsibility by participating in a conspiracy of silence on safe airbag technology.
NHTSA and Nissan are both to blame for the dozens of consumers with permanent eye damage from 1994-early 1995 Nissan Altima passenger airbags. Nissan made a bad airbag which NHTSA has helped them conceal from the public by granting repeated requests for confidentiality from Nissan. All too many people have been condemned to lives of darkness because NHTSA and Nissan kept them in the dark about the hazards of passenger airbags in their cars.