Prescott to learn of airbag danger

AN INQUEST jury returned a verdict of accidental death yesterday after hearing how a 47-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her car's airbag.

The coroner, Christopher Sumner, told the hearing in St Helens town hall, Merseyside, that he would report the inquest and its findings to John Prescott, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Jennifer Reichardt, a legal executive aged 47, died after her Rover 400 was in collision with an Opel Ascona near St Helens in January last year. The jury heard that the airbag safety device was triggered in the head-on crash, which, combined with the victim's close proximity to the steering wheel, caused a massive fracturing of her skull. The fatal head injury is believed to have been caused when Ms Reichardt's head was thrown back by the airbag into the headrest.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said yesterday that airbags did save lives, but called for "intelligent airbags" which take into account a person's height, weight and even bone density. "The technology exists to do this and the industry has known for some time that airbags could be better designed. These could deploy in accordance with a person's build. There could also be a cut-off device so an airbag would not work if a driver's seat were too close to the steering wheel."