Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) today conducts extensive internal testing involving side air bags and out of position occupants. And the company will move to quickly incorporate new voluntary testing as soon as it is finalized.

Ford’s internal testing already consists of more than a dozen out-of- position occupant tests geared for 3 and 6 year old dummies, along with 5th percentile dummies. For example, a passenger with his or her head near the vehicle’s side may experience side air bag forces different from a normally seated, upright passenger.

Ford will adapt its existing tests to follow the new procedures when the Side Airbag Out-of-Position Injury Technical Working Group completes its efforts. The Working Group is a joint project of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers (of which Ford Motor Company is a member), Automotive Occupants Restraints Council and chaired by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Wearing your safety belt and being positioned properly are the most important safety moves a person can make, but we recognize there are times when our customers are out-of-position,” said Lou Camp, director of the Automotive Safety Office. “These voluntary tests will be an important step in continuing to further reduce any risk of injury from side air bags.”

While still early in terms of collecting data, it is expected side air bags will greatly reduce the incidence of serious injury in side impact crashes. In 1998, side impacts resulted in 9,482 fatalities — 2,981 in single vehicle crashes and 6,591 in multiple vehicle crashes.

Previous testing helped Ford to adopt its unique head-and-chest side air bag system, first implemented for the 1998 model year. Ford’s side air bags are seat-mounted in front seats only and deploy from the back of the seat. This type of bag provides enhanced head and chest protection. For the 2001 model year, side air bags are standard on the Lincoln Continental, ls, Town Car and Navigator. In addition, side air bags will be offered as an option on the Ford Windstar, Taurus, Escape, Explorer, Expedition and Focus, and the Mercury Sable, Cougar and Mountaineer.

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