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U.S. To Sign Auto Safety Agreement

June 16, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration plans to sign an agreement next week setting up a forum to seek global uniformity in auto safety regulations, a move U.S. automakers say would lower production costs without sacrificing safety.

Auto regulations cover many areas of car safety but conflicting standards in the United States, Europe and Japan mean expensive design changes for each market, automakers contend.

But some insurance and consumer groups say the agreement will jeopardize auto safety by restricting the ability of federal regulators to make independent decisions and respond to the American public. Critics also worry that uniform safety regulations among countries could wind up being weaker.

``There has never been a global system for vehicle safety,″ said Dave Snyder of the American Insurance Association, a trade group representing 300 insurers.

``It’s a sleeper issue now, but it could dramatically change the whole landscape down the road,″ he said. ``Instead of raising the bar on safety, it might be maintained or lowered.″

Government officials say the agreement, to be signed June 25 in Geneva, will improve safety.

``The opportunity here is to improve safety by finding the best practices (among nations) and speeding them to the American public,″ said Ricardo Martinez, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

``It’s a win-win situation,″ he said. ``The manufacturers get one standard instead of two or more, but we get the better standard for the American public.″

The so-called framework agreement would allow countries to advertise their auto safety regulations in a common forum under the United Nations and to work to achieve common regulations _ one at a time. In addition to the United States, countries expected to sign the agreement include Japan and the 15 member nations of the European Union.

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