The US consumer group Public Citizen yesterday said that Nissan Altimas made in the country in 1994 and early 1995 should be recalled because their air bags have a unique defect that causes 20 times more eye injuries than other ‘bags, Associated Press (AP) said.

But Nissan North America says Public Citizen is wrong about the devices, AP said.

According to the news organisation, at least 29 people have sued Nissan because their eyes were damaged after the passenger-side air bag inflated in a crash.

AP said that the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last October upgraded its investigation into the older model Altimas and that 75 people have said they were hurt by an Altima air bag, which can hit a passenger's face before it has completely unrolled.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson would tell AP only that its investigation is ongoing.

AP said that Public Citizen held a news conference yesterday with Norma Brainerd of Portland, Oregon, who described how she was blinded by a 1994 Altima air bag when her car hit a curb at a scenic viewpoint.

She eventually regained part of her vision in one eye and settled a lawsuit with Nissan for an undisclosed amount, AP added.

“I'm asking the government, Nissan, NHTSA, somebody to take this bag off the road," Brainerd said tearfully after recalling how a home health worker put Velcro dots on her crockpot so she could cook for her two small children, AP said.

According to AP, Nissan officials said people are suing other auto manufacturers for eye injuries caused by air bags in a variety of car makes and models.

“The best estimate is that air bags have reduced the frequency of eye injuries," Nissan lawyer Mal Wheeler told AP.

But the news agency said that, according to information the company gave to NHTSA, Nissan received complaints about 30.17 face or eye injuries for every 100,000 1994 and 1995 Altimas sold while all other vehicle manufacturers reported only 1.48 face or eye injuries per 100,000 cars.

Nissan told AP that about 248,000 Altimas from 1994 and 1995 are being driven in the United States, plus a handful in Canada and Taiwan.

The mid-size model has long been one of Nissan’s top sellers in the US.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Centre for Auto Safety, told AP that Nissan was fighting a recall because it would cost $US200 million to replace the air bags and that would be one of the most expensive recalls in history.

Nissan said it hadn't estimated the costs of a recall, according to AP.