Toyota has announced that virtually all of its MY 2001 Toyota and Lexus side airbags will meet or exceed a set of proposed new industry standards and evaluation procedures that were submitted today to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The voluntary industry guidelines will define standardized test procedures to help evaluate risk of injury to out-of-position occupants in motor vehicle crashes where the side airbags deploy.

Toyota participated in the Side Airbag Out-of-Position Technical Working Group (TWG) consisting of automobile manufacturers, seat belt and air bag manufacturers, and insurance companies to help develop this challenging set of tests.

"Toyota has been independently evaluating its own systems since side airbags were first introduced, using demanding test procedures similar to those outlined by the working group," said Jim Olson, senior vice president of external and regulatory affairs, Toyota Motor North America. "We have already incorporated much of that work into current designs and we plan to implement the new industry-wide procedures throughout our models with side airbags or side curtains in the 2001 model year."

Side airbag systems are an important advance in safety technology, which can help deliver occupant protection in certain types of vehicle crashes. Side airbags are a supplemental restraint, to be used in combination with seat belts.

Currently, Toyota and Lexus feature side airbags and/or side curtains in the following models: Toyota Avalon, Camry, Camry Solara, Corolla, Celica, Echo, and Prius, and in the Lexus LS 400, GS 300/400, IS 300, RX 300, and ES 300. For 2001 the Toyota Sienna minivan, the new Sequoia and Highlander SUVs, plus the new Lexus LS 430 will also offer these features.

"Toyota takes its commitment to passenger safety very seriously," said Olson. "We place a high priority on integrating active and passive safety features into our vehicles."

Many Toyota and Lexus vehicles already offer Daytime Running Lights (DRL), anti-lock Brake Systems (ABS), Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) seats, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) with Brake Assist, Traction Control (TRAC), seat belt pretensioners and load limiters, power window jam protection, an Automatic Locking Retractor/Emergency Locking Retractor (ALR/ELR) function on the outboard front passenger and all rear belts, a seat belt reminder system to remind front seat occupants to buckle up, and child-friendly power window switches.

The new 2001 Corolla, on sale now, is Toyota's first model to offer an inside trunk release. Toyota and Lexus will begin this year to install inside trunk releases throughout their model lines and will offer an Advanced Airbag System and a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) System to enhance compatibility with child safety seats.