GM: Air Bags May Harm Kids

Side-impact air bags are the rage in car safety. They're the hottest feature in auto manufacturer's rush to sell consumers the safest possible car.

But are they really safe? Once again, questions have been raised that air bags may pose dangers for children, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

General Motors is releasing tapes of tests it performed on what some side-impact air bags can do to unbelted three-year-olds.

GM says a child resting against an air bag in the front seat of a car runs a significant risk of neck and chest injuries from the bag.

GM's agenda is to point out how their own air bags have been designed to protect children, while some of their competitors' bags have not been.

Bob Lang, GM's chief safety engineer, says "We have limited the injury risk exposure to children pretty severely. Other manufacturers that are using side impact air bags have chosen to accept a higher risk of child injury."

The government is also paying attention to the issue of side air bag safety.

In December, Ricardo Martinez, the chief U.S. safety regulator, warned manufacturers that air bags must first "do no harm."

Martinez said in a statement Wednesday that car makers must "absolutely test the safety of any new technology under real world conditions."

One critical issue is whether side air bag marketing has outpaced air bag safety. An increasing number of 1999 model cars will offer side air bags although there are still no government safety regulations and no warnings to parents about potential risks to children.

Other car makers Wednesday responded to the GM report. Volvo pointed out that it already warns parents that children should wear seatbelts and sit in the rear.

BMW advised concerned parents to have the side air bags deactivated.

Despite these fears, having side-impact air bags is still considered safer than not having them. And there is almost no risk to anyone from wearing a seatbelt.