Air bags weren't always in cars. They have come about as a fairly recent development, and the rise of the air bag was due to politics. While this may sound strange, many things that individuals take for granted today have come about because special interest groups were concerned about a specific aspect of public policy or public safety. These individuals or groups then worked to change laws or to have laws enacted that made the world, in their opinion, a better place.
The purpose of this paper is to examine air bags from a political standpoint. In other words, the goal of this paper is not to make a judgment as to whether air bags in cars are good or bad, but rather to look at the political changes that caused them to come about in the first place.
In order to do this, several things must be examined in order to gain a full understanding of the issue.
First, policy changes had to be made in order for air bags to be placed in cars. What the policy was like before air bags, and what the policy was like after air bags are very important to an understanding of how and why they came about. Second, placing air bags in cars was not the sole decision of one person or group. Many individuals had varied and strong opinions about air bags, and many politicians were aware that the amount of votes they received in upcoming elections could be affected by their stance regarding the air bag. Because of this, this paper will look at the air bag issue as it relates to Congress, the President, interest groups, scientists, and the general public.
The main sections of this paper will deal with these two issues. Policy changes will be the focus of the first section, with a discussion of the policy before air bags became so popular in passenger vehicles, and a discussion that deals with that present-day popularity. This division can be considered stage one and stage two. The second section will deal with the individuals and groups that were affected by the air bag issue.
Stage one is the time before air bag legislation was enacted. It is important to examine this time, because it gives an indication of why air bag legislation was so important in the political arena. While politics is not all about votes, they are obviously a large part of it. Without enough votes, a person or a bit of legislation cannot succeed. Because of this, politicians who voted in favor of air bags in cars needed to be certain that the voting public actually wanted them.
It turned out that the voting public did want airbags, or some other form of additional safety in their vehicles. Where the trouble came from were the automakers themselves (Carter, 1985). Not only did it cost more money to put air bags in vehicles, but many automakers were not convinced that air bags would actually save lives. Politicians had to be very careful here, because the automakers were large and influential.
The general public and their votes were obviously a concern, but many automakers and other large corporations help to back politicians and fund some of what they do. Angering them could have been a problem, but angering the general public could have been worse. In the end, politicians took the lesser of two evils and decided that the outcry from the general public about safety in their passenger vehicles far outweighed the outcry from automakers about cost and inconvenience.
Stage two deals with politics after the enacting of legislation to require air bags in passenger vehicles. Politicians who voted for air bag legislation believed at the time that voters would be forever on their side. They also believed that carmakers would come around to their way thinking when they saw how happy the general public was to purchase vehicles that had air bags as standard equipment.
However, a great deal of what the politicians hoped for never came to pass. Much of this was because air bags were found to be dangerous to small children, and sometimes to very petite adults. This was not what the politicians who voted for air bag legislation had hoped for, and they found themselves backpedaling in order to keep voters happy (Healey, 1996). Naturally, politicians never expected air bags in cars to do anything but save lives.
Once they discovered that the air bags could potentially be dangerous, especially to children, they began some form of damage control in order to keep voters happy. Some of this damage control comes in the form of making air bags optional equipment, providing a special mechanism to allow the vehicle owner the ability to turn off the air bag on the passenger side, and allowing the owner of the vehicle to have the air bags disconnected through a licensed dealer.
These measures have not appeased all of the voters, nor have they brought back the loved ones who have been lost. However, they have helped politicians by showing sympathy and understanding to the general public, as well as indicating a desire to help correct measures that were designed for safety but caused danger to others instead.
Naturally, Congress had a great deal to do with the air bag issue. As the governing body in charge of creating and enacting new legislation, Congress had to be deeply involved in the process of making the air bags required on passenger cars. This means that they had to listen to many different opinions from a variety of different individuals and groups before deciding whether air bag legislation would actually be beneficial to the public at large. Only when they were convinced that the majority wanted air bags to be required in vehicles did they set out to create legislation that would require it.
Because of the actions of Congress, policy shifted from no requirement for air bags in vehicles to a policy of mandatory air bags. Now that the policy has been around for several years, Congress is concerned that it may have made a mistake in requiring air bags. Much of this Congressional concern stems from the deaths of children and small adults that have allegedly been caused by air bags, and this concern is causing problems for Congress in that it relied on scientists and other experts to make a determination as to whether air bags should be placed in cars.
Whether Congress listened to special interest groups as well as the scientific community in the matter is really irrelevant, because the scientists and technical advisors usually have the ultimate power when discussing concepts such as the air bag. This being the case, Congress looks to blame the scientific community, and channel some of the general public's aggression away from itself. This funneling of anger or problems over to someone else or some other governing or advising body is common practice, and the scientists who had recommended the air bag were likely not surprised at the fallout that they received from it when it was determined that the air bags can be unsafe (Lambrecht, 1997).
The President of the United States, while certainly an important figure when it comes to decision-making, does not really have as much power as many people think. Actually, he spends more time dealing with heads of state and foreign officials than he does dealing with issues like whether air bags should be allowed in cars. He might show that he is in favor of them, but it is likely that he doesn't really know all that there is to know about the issue. His advisors keep him informed as much as possible, but there are still things that he is unaware of, and sometimes this can hurt his credibility when something goes amiss (Quindlen, 2000).
Fortunately for him, most people know that Congress is the one that really holds most of the power for creating laws, and therefore much of the anger of the people is devoted to Congress and not to the President. This is important in the day-to-day running of the country, but when re-election time appears, the President will not do well with the voters if he has made a lot of bad decisions or if he has appeared to be unconcerned about the welfare of the general public.
This is why, even though the air bag law doesn't affect him directly, he must learn more about it and show compassion for those people that have lost loved ones. He must take a stand, one way or the other, on whether air bags are going to continue. People might vote for a President even if he is against something that they believe in, but they are not going to vote for a President who is wishy-washy and doesn't seem to stand for anything. That…