Two private auto-safety groups want the government to declare automatic seat belts unsafe and take them off the market, a proposal dismissed by a federal official as "irresponsible."

"We don't want to see them sold any more," said Benjamin Kelley, president of the Institute for Injury Reduction, a research and advocacy group founded by trial attorneys. Also criticizing the automatic belts was the consumer-oriented Center for Auto Safety.Although the government considers automatic belts and air bags equally acceptable forms of protection, there is ample evidence that automatic belts are flawed, Kelley said at a news conference Tuesday.

"To say they are defective is an irresponsible statement," countered Barry Felrice, associate administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "It's really unfortunate that this kind of misinformation gets any attention whatsoever, because it gives people a reason not to use their seat belts."

The American Coalition for Traffic Safety, an industry-backed group, also defended automatic belts and labeled the campaign against them as "efforts by trial lawyers and their accomplices to reduce safety-belt use in order to generate more liability suits against manufacturers."