The Center for Auto Safety, the American Seat Belt Council and the National Safety Council are fighting over seat belts.

The center contended in a study released two weeks ago that many seat-belt systems in cars on the road today are defective, and called that a major reason why only 14 percent of all American motorists use the belts.

But now both the American Seat Belt Council and the National Safety Council have attacked the CAS study, labeling it misleading and inaccurate, and charging that it was really aimed at promoting the use of airbags.

National Safety Council President Vincent L. Tofany said the "key issue is not effectiveness. Definitive research has repeatedly demonstrated the life-saving capability of safety belts."

Ditlow responded by saying, "the basic proof in the defects of seat belts is that only 14 percent of consumers use them. In the 1,200 complaints we received, consumers cited defects and discomfort as the main reasons for not using belts."

"The seat-belt industry has had 17 years to improve seat belts, and they simply haven't done it," he continued. "That's why we're calling for mandatory dynamic testing."

But ASBC President Charles Pulley said the center's sampling of 1,700 complaints represented "an insignificant number" of consumers because more than 110 million cars on the road have seat belts.

"The fact is that an estimated 2,000 lives a year are currently being saved by safely belts even with the present low usage," the NSC's Tofany said.