The First Accident Between Two Airbag-Equipped Cars

When Virginia State Trooper Gary Dawson came upon the head-on crash in rural Culpeper County, the crumpled metal and shattered glass told him he soon would be ringing the doorbells of relatives to give them the tragic news. A smashed red sedan lay on one side of the two-lane road at the crest of a hill, a crushed burgundy convertible on the other. Ambulances and firetrucks pulled up to remove the bodies. To Dawson's surprise, however, the two drivers had climbed out and were inspecting the damage. The reason Priscilla Vansteelant and Ronald E. Woody II survived also put the accident in the nation's record books: It apparently was the first in which both cars deployed air bags. Highway safety experts saw the outcome as a vindication of their 20-year battle with the auto industry over whether the government should require air bags, a fight that roiled through the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations.