After much wrangling, the U.S. Transportation Department has come up with new standards to make cars less deadly in side crashes. Complaints about the cost of strengthening side panels and beefing up interior padding slowed implementation, but finally the standard-makers won.
What was won is still being debated. Chrysler Corp., first marketer of successful air bags, considers the regulations a positive step. And so they are. General Motors argued strenuously over the dummy the federal testers were using to develop the crash-worthiness standards, but came around after Transportation chief Samuel Skinner talked to Robert Stempel, now chairman of GM. Ford, arguing that the new rules would require substantial engineering changes, said the new rules might make it harder to boost gas mileage.
What we're talking about here is a safety change that could save 500 lives a year. By the time the standards are fully implemented in 1997, that is. Meanwhile, 8,000 people a year are dying in side crashes. Another 24,000 individuals each year suffer serious injuries.