GM Recalls '97 Blazer, Jimmy, and Bravada SUVs To Replace Seatbelt Buckle Assembly General Motors says it is recalling about 341,000 '97 Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Jimmy, and Oldsmobile Bravada midsize SUVs in order to replace a driver seatbelt buckle assembly with a new buckle assembly. GM will notify owners of the affected vehicles beginning in July. Owners will be instructed to bring their vehicles to their Chevrolet, GMC, and Oldsmobile dealers to retrofit a new seatbelt buckle assembly that does not contain an energy-absorbing loop. GM says the repairs will be made at no cost to the owner.

The driver-side seatbelt design in the '97 midsize SUVs used an energy-absorbing system that relied on stitching and belt webbing that extends in response to a frontal impact. This energy-absorbing feature enabled the occupant restraint system for the driver to meet or exceed GM and federal head injury criteria (HIC) values measured in lab testing.

GM is recalling these vehicles because there may be reduced driver restraint if the energy-absorbing loop fully deploys during severe rollover conditions. Rollovers comprise a small percentage of the total crash events that occur in the field; however, GM says it is taking this action in the interest of the safety of its customers. Overall, the driver's seatbelt is a safe belt and helps provide protection in many types of crash events. Additionally, GM says, "Energy-absorbing loops are widely used in the industry and help provide effective restraint."

GM claims the Blazer, Jimmy, and Bravada models can meet GM and federal government standards with the new seatbelt buckle assembly that does not contain an energy-absorbing loop. For more information, log on to www.gm.com

Driving And Dialing: Teens Vs. Adults Compete In Recent Ford StudyA Driver distraction study finds teenagers to be as much as 56 percent more distracted than adults when operating a cellular phone while driving. The retrieval of voice mail using hands-free technology does not significantly distract drivers, says the Ford study.

Regardless of hands-free operation, cellular phones pose a distraction while driving, according to the results of a recent driver distraction study conducted by Ford's Scientific Research Laboratory. However, using Ford's Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), the study also proved when operating a cellular phone with hands-free technology, the driver was noticeably less distracted. "Some research has suggested that hands-free technology doesn't really reduce distraction," said Jeff Greenberg, staff technical specialist of Safety Research. "For short conversations where the driver is trying to work with simple information, we found that hands-free really does make a big improvement."

The 48 adults and 15 teenagers who participated in the study were asked to combine an everyday simulated driving experience with performing various tasks, including phone dialing, voice mail retrieval, manual radio tuning, and climate-control adjustment.

While the participants were trying to complete a given task, they were asked to respond to sudden movements in surrounding traffic, such as a swerving vehicle. Vehicle control was measured by lane violations and heading error. For the adult drivers, the most distracting tasks to perform were hand-held voice mail retrieval and hand-held phone dialing, while hands-free voice mail retrieval did not significantly distract participants.