Each week The Sentinel visits a memorable story from its archives.
March 13, 1986
A Maryland woman driving a Mercedes-Benz recently hit a tree and “just tore the car up.” But, instead of being hurled into her windshield, the woman was protected by her car’s air bag, which inflated upon impact.
“The air bag definitely saved her from going into the windshield,” said Jim Gordon, of Her Gordon Satsun, Silver Spring, the dealer who sold the car.
Air bags inflate on front-end impact to protect a driver’s and/or passenger’s head, face, and torso.
Public interest and health groups, the auto insurance industry, and some car makers extol the importance of air bags to driver safety, but the auto industry as a whole has opposed moves to make the bags mandatory. “We’re here to sell cars, not air bags,” said Jeff Jones, sales manager of Ourisman Ford.
An ongoing battle between air bag supporters, the auto industry and the U.S. Department of Transportation, focused this week in a federal court and also being waged in state legislatures, has made the future of air bags in U.S. cars unclear.
Mercedes-Benz made air bags standard in all its 1986 models. BMW’s $45,000 luxury model also contains the air bag as a standard feature.
Consumers with fewer funds for auto purchases may turn to the Ford Tempo or the Lincoln Mercury Topaz, which will carry air bags soon.
But while Ford started building Tempos and Topazes with air bags recently, local dealers do not have much information on the devices yet.
Some local dealers seem less than enthusiastic about promoting the air bags.
Jones said his salesmen seldom mention the air bags to customers, since they don’t have the bags in stock. Ourisman has received no requests yet for the $819 Tempo air bags, Jones said.
Jerry Lenga, Gaithersburg’s Federal Ford service manager said, “I’d be worries about it going off while I was driving down the road,” even though tests and automobile use data have shown this is not likely.
Ford spokeswoman Barbara Mansfield said dealers probably have not received any more information than a letter sent by the company’s Chairman Donald Peterson saying Ford wants the air bags promoted.
Mercedes and BMW dealers are more upbeat about the feature than their domestic counterparts. The air bag was a fairly popular option before it became standard, according to Nick Scanniello, sales manager of Euro Motorcars of Bethesda, Inc.