WASHINGTON -- Two consumer groups accused the Transportation Department yesterday of manipulating car crash tests and selectively releasing the results to support the automobile industry's contention that stricter fuel economy standards would produce more dangerous cars.
The safety agency's pictures of a head-on collision between a large and a small car have been widely shown in recent advertisements sponsored by the automobile industry and its allies.
Safety is at the heart of the debate over legislation calling for a 40 percent increase in the average car's fuel efficiency within 10 years.
The consumer groups, the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, said that Jerry R. Curry, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ordered the agency to conduct tests and make a videotape that would demonstrate the safety of larger cars. The groups said Mr. Curry suppressed tests that produced less dramatic results.
In reply, Mr. Curry attacked Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, whom he called someone with "no creditability in the traffic safety community." Mr. Curry avoided criticizing the head of Public Citizen, Joan Claybrook, who headed the traffic safety agency under President Jimmy Carter.