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Return to Stronger 5-MPH Auto Bumper Protection Standard

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Return to Stronger 5-MPH Auto Bumper Protection Standard

Representative Anthony C. Beilenson
Congressional Record: 101st Congress
Extensions of Remarks
February 2, 1989

HON. ANTHONY C. BEILENSON in the House of Representatives

Mr. BEILENSON. Mr. Speaker, today I am reintroducing legislation I proposed during each of the last three Congresses to restore automobile bumper protection standards to the 5 mile-per-hour requirement which was in force when the Reagan administration took office.

Beginning in 1978, new cars were equipped with bumpers capable of withstanding any damage in accidents occurring at 5 miles per hour or less. This was done in accordance with the the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972 which requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] to set a bumper standard that seeks to obtain the maximum feasible reduction of costs to the public and to the consumer.

However, as part of the Reagan administration's effort to ease the so-called regulatory burden on the automobile industry, NHTSA reduced the standard to 2.5 miles per hour in 1982, claiming that lighter, weaker bumpers would cost less to install and replace, and would provide better fuel economy. This supposedly meant a consumer would save money over the life of a car, since the lower purchase and fuel costs should outweigh the occasionally higher cost of an accident. The administration promised, at the time, to provide bumper data to consumers, so that car buyers could make informed choices about the amount they wished to spend for extra bumper protection.

None of these economic benefits has materialized. Not only is the Government ignoring the consumers' need for adequate, accessible crash safety and damage information by making bumper and crash test information difficult for new car purchasers to find, but there is virtually no evidence that the car makers have reduced prices on cars they have equipped with the weaker bumpers. Adding insult to injury, the new bumpers weigh about the same as the older ones and thus save nothing on fuel costs.

Most importantly, consumers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in extra repair costs and higher insurance premiums because of the extra damage incurred in slow speed accidents. In 5-mile-per-hour crash tests done each year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS], cars with the weaker bumpers sustain up to $3,000 in needless damage with absolutely none of the compensating benefits promised by NHTSA.

There is no doubt that consumers overwhelmingly favor a stricter bumper standard. In a 1982 survey conducted for IIHS 78 percent of those asked said they preferred 5-mile-per-hour bumpers to 2.5-mile-per-hour bumpers when they were told that the weaker bumpers would save gas, and lower the price of a new car, but would increase insurance collision prices by 10 to 20 percent. Surely no one buying a new car would prefer the extra inconvenience and cost associated with damage sustained in low-speed accidents with weaker bumpers to the very minor additional cost, if any, of stronger bumpers.

Both the Consumers Union, which has petitioned NHTSA unsuccessfully to rescind the change, and the Center for Auto Safety strongly support Federal legislation requiring a return to the 5-mile-per-hour standard. The insurance industry also strongly believes that rolling back the bumper standard was an irresponsible move, and both the American Insurance Association and the Alliance of American Insurers, two of the industy's largest trade organizations, support this measure as a way of controlling auto insurance costs.

Mr. Speaker, the administration made a serious, costly mistake when it rolled back the bumper standard. It has cost consumers many millions of dollars, with no offsetting benefit at all. Some manufacturers have continued to supply the stronger bumpers voluntarily, but consumers have no easy way of knowing whether cars have the stronger or weaker bumpers.

Re-establishing the 5-mile-per-hour bumper standard would be one of the wisest and easiest measures Congress could take this year to help alleviate the automobile insurance crisis that car owners are currently facing. We can save consumers millions of dollars by a proven regulation that worked well in actual practice only a few years ago. We cannot allow rhetoric about the burden of Government regulation and the advantages of free market economics to blind us to the reality of the economic and human costs of automobile accidents. It is up to Congress to restore rationality to automobile bumper protection standards.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this simple, straightforward bill.

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