Chrysler air bags have taken a deadly toll. Seventeen of the 20 minivan passengers killed by air bags were riding in Chrysler minivans. Most of them were children.
But, after reviewing accident and test data, federal regulators today declined to open a formal investigation of the Chrysler minivan air-bag system.
Auto Safety Advocate Joan Claybrook, who used to be the government's top auto safety official, says the car maker lobbied hard to stave off an investigation which could have resulted in an expensive recall of up to two million minivans.
"Kids are being killed," said Claybrook. "It's just disheartening that they would ignore this problem and not do an investigation. There's more than enough data here to do an investigation."
Chrysler says its own tests show its minivan air bag is safe.
The company also argues that since it was the first automaker to offer passenger side air bags in its 1994 minivans, and since it has more minivans on the road, the number of air bag deaths is not alarming.
The government accepted that argument, and using a mathematical formula concluded that Chrysler's rate of minivan air-bag deaths is in line with other vehicles including passenger cars.
Sources say that even some Department of Transportation insiders were surprised by the decision not to pursue the investigation. But, it's clear, unless there are more air bag deaths in Chrysler minivans, that federal regulators aren't ready to take on one of world's automotive giants.