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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater


April 9, 1998

NHTSA 18-98
Thursday, April 9, 1998
Contact: Tim Hurd
Tel. No. (202) 366-9550

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today proposed a new design for the mandatory utility vehicle rollover warning label, using graphics and brighter colors to replace the current 20-year-old text-only design.

"Safety is President Clinton's highest transportation priority, and this action will send a strong message to drive safely," Secretary Slater said. "Sport utility vehicles have the highest rollover-related occupant fatality rate, so drivers need avoid extreme maneuvers. The new warning labels are another step in our continuing educational and research efforts to improve SUV safety."

Sport utility vehicles (SUV) are constructed with higher ground clearance for occasional off-road use and therefore have a higher center of gravity. This, among other factors, contributes to a rollover rate of 98 fatalities per million registered vehicles compared to only 47 fatalities per million registered vehicles for all vehicle types, according to the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Secretary Slater commended Ricardo Martinez, M.D., NHTSA administrator, for making reducing rollover risk one of the department's top auto safety priorities. The upgrade to the existing utility vehicle rollover warning label is part of the agency's comprehensive rollover plan, which includes both consumer information and engineering initiatives. NHTSA is collecting test data in an effort to determine if extreme, but realistic maneuvers could induce rollovers. Expanded track testing is planned for this summer, and the results will be analyzed to determine whether a rulemaking is necessary.

The agency is proposing to replace the existing text-only label with one of three alternative labels, or some combination of components of the three designs. The new label will use bright colors, graphics, and short, bulleted text messages. Based on the results of consumer focus group studies conducted by NHTSA, the agency believes that these changes will increase the likelihood that drivers and passengers will see and read the warning. The changes are expected to make the information more understandable to consumers and increase the chance that the labels can affect driver and passenger behavior to reduce rollovers and their consequences.

The agency also is asking for comments on possible changes to the requirement for placement of the label. Currently, the label is allowed to be at any location on the vehicle interior, if it is visible to the driver. The label is located most commonly on the sun visor, though it cannot be on the same side as the air bag warning label. Because the air bag warning label must be on the sun visor, the agency is requesting comment on whether the utility vehicle label requirement should stay as it is, whether the utility vehicle label should be prohibited from being placed on the sun visor, or whether the agency should specify a location for the utility vehicle label. The agency also is requesting comment on whether new locations, such as the side door window, should be allowed or required.

Because utility vehicles have a higher rollover rate than other vehicles and because of another proposal to require vehicles to be labeled with comparative information about rollover propensity, the agency is not proposing to extend the label requirement to other vehicle types (such as light trucks). However, NHTSA also is soliciting comments on the desirability of a rollover label requirement for other vehicle types. Small and standard size pickup trucks, for example, also have a higher rollover rate than passenger cars.

In a May 1997 Federal Register notice responding to a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, "Shopping for Safety - Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information," NHTSA announced its plans to significantly improve motor vehicle safety consumer information. In the notice, NHTSA stated that it would use focus groups to improve effectiveness of labels and other communication strategies, as it did in developing the new air bag warning labels.

Also, consistent with the recommendations of the NAS study that information be provided to consumers in an increasing hierarchy of detail, the agency is requesting comment on the existing owner's manual requirement. Currently the owner's manual for these vehicles must contain a statement very similar to the current label. The agency is requesting comments on whether manufacturers should be required to provide an additional level of detail on this information.

Comments will be accepted over the next 60 days, and should be submitted to Docket Management, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590.

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