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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Airbags could probably be made to inflate with less force to cause

fewer injuries and still provide ample protection in traffic accidents, a University of Tennessee

crash-injury researcher said Friday.

Tyler Kress of UT-Knoxville’s Engineering Institute for Trauma and Injury Prevention said

the automobile industry needs to increase research on slower-inflating airbags.

“There is sufficient evidence that supports the fact that the airbag could still be effective and

still do its primary purpose and inflate at lower speeds,” Kress said.

“The automobile industry is doing a fine job, but now is the time to take the next step in the

evolution of automobile airbags.”

Police said a deployed air bag during a traffic accident may have caused the death Thursday

of a 5-year-old girl in Nashville.

The child suffered serious head injuries when an air bag inflated as the van her mother was

driving was hit by another car and went into a ditch.

Medical examiners haven’t determined the exact cause of death, but investigating officers said

the air bag was to blame for the girl’s death.

The National Highway Safety Administration is considering extending an option for

manufacturers to install on-off switches for passenger-side air bags, which have been blamed for

the deaths of 21 children.

Kress said the standard airbag inflation rate is usually within 50 milliseconds of an accident.

“I think the optimal speed could probably be slower than the current standard, but I don’t

know what that speed would be,” Kress said.

“With slower inflation speed, the overall injury picture would be better than it is right now,”

Kress said. “You’ve got to look at the whole field of injuries, the entire picture. If you slowed

down airbag velocity, there would be some people hurt who wouldn’t have been hurt before, but I

think the tradeoff probably is (acceptable).”

Contact: Tyler Kress (423-974-3333)