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U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Updated Proposal to Improve Benefits Of Air Bags and Reduce Risks

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater

U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Updated Proposal to Improve Benefits Of Air Bags and Reduce Risks

NHTSA
November 2, 1999

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NHTSA 56-99
Tuesday, November 2, 1999
Contact: NHTSA, Tim Hurd, (202) 366-9550

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced an updated and refined National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposal, reflecting new information and public comments on a 1998 proposal, to improve the benefits of air bags while reducing associated risks.

"This proposal continues our comprehensive series of actions, begun in 1995, requiring protection for a wide range of motor vehicle occupants involved in crashes," U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Secretary Slater said. "It underscores once again our commitment to safety, which is President Clinton's highest transportation priority."

In September 1998, NHTSA proposed to upgrade air bag requirements for passenger cars and light trucks to meet the twin goals mandated by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century: improving protection for occupants of different sizes, belted and unbelted, and minimizing the risks posed by air bags to infants, children, and other occupants, by means that include advanced air bags.

Though frontal air bags, as currently designed, would save more than 3,000 lives per year if every vehicle were equipped with them, the addition of advanced air bag technologies will save even more lives.

With respect to the goal of improving protection, NHTSA is now proposing to adopt one of the following alternative crash tests to evaluate the protection of unbelted occupants in moderate to high speed crashes, those that are potentially fatal.

* One alternative is a crash into a rigid barrier with a maximum speed to be established in the final rule within the range of 25 to 30 mph. If NHTSA permanently reduces the maximum speed to 25 mph, the agency might also increase the maximum speed of the belted rigid barrier test from the current 30 to 35 mph.

* Another alternative is an offset crash into a deformable barrier. This crash test would be run at a maximum speed to be established in the final rule within the range of 30 to 35 mph. Under the second alternative, the vehicle would have to meet the requirements both in a test with the driver's side of the front of the vehicle striking the barrier and in a separate test with the passenger side taking the force of the crash.

Under either alternative, the vehicle would have to meet enhanced injury criteria with 50th percentile male dummies and 5th percentile female dummies.

With respect to the goal of minimizing the risks of air bags, NHTSA is proposing performance requirements to ensure that future air bags do not pose an unreasonable risk of serious injury to out-of-position occupants. The agency continues to propose to adopt a number of options to ensure that vehicle manufacturers would be free to use various combinations of advanced air bag technologies. With this flexibility, they could use technologies, like dual stage inflators and weight sensors, that control or prevent air bag deployment in appropriate circumstances. Some new vehicles are already equipped with these types of devices.

Proposed crash tests would incorporate a new family of crash test dummies with improved injury criteria better representing human injury tolerances. The family includes 1-, 3- and 6-year-old child dummies, a small (5th percentile) female dummy, and an average size (50th percentile) male dummy. Currently, only the 50th percentile male dummy is specified by the agency for use in testing air bags.

NHTSA cautioned that advanced air bags will never eliminate the need for vehicle occupants to use seat belts. Furthermore, even in vehicles with advanced air bags, the back seat remains the safest seating position for children, and young children should still be transported in safety seats or booster seats appropriate for their age.

The rulemaking announced today proposes a phase-in schedule for these requirements. Under the proposal, manufacturers would be required to comply with the new requirements beginning with Model Year 2003 vehicles. Twenty-five percent of each automakers' Model Year 2003 production of passenger cars and light trucks would be required to meet the new requirements; 40 percent of MY 2004 production would be required to meet the new requirements; and 70 percent of MY 2005 production. All MY 2006 passenger cars and light trucks would be required to meet the new standard.

NHTSA said this updated proposal reflects numerous meetings with manufacturers, suppliers and other interested parties, the results of low speed and high speed testing programs, and special crash investigations which are still underway. Two papers on barrier testing and biomechanics are being published this week.

The proposal is in NHTSA's Docket No.99-6407. Interested parties may comment on the proposal not later than Dec. 30, 1999. Written comments may be submitted to: Docket Management, Room PL- 401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20590. Comments may also be submitted electronically by logging onto the Dockets Management System website at http://dms.dot.gov. Click on "Help & Information" or "Help/Info" to obtain instructions for filing the document electronically.

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