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U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Advanced Air Bag Regulation that Improve Benefits and Reduce Risks

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater

U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Advanced Air Bag Regulation that Improve Benefits and Reduce Risks

May 5, 2000

NHTSA 18-00
Friday, May 5, 2000
Contact: NHTSA, Tim Hurd, (202) 366-9550

Culminating a comprehensive series of actions to improve air bag safety, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced an advanced air bag rule requiring that future air bags create less risk of serious air bag-induced injuries than current air bags, particularly for small women and young children B and provide improved frontal crash protection for all occupants.

"This rule continues our extensive series of actions designed to preserve the benefits of air bags and decrease the potential hazard for children and small adults," Secretary Slater said. "It underscores once again our commitment to safety, which is President Clinton and Vice President Gore=s highest transportation priority."

The rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) imposes performance requirements to ensure that future air bags do not pose an unreasonable risk of serious injury to occupants who are very near the air bag when it deploys. The agency adopts 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.

"The requirements in today=s rule for improving protection and minimizing risk are very comprehensive, and will require vehicle manufacturers to innovate to make air bags of the future even better than today's," said Acting NHTSA Administrator Rosalyn G. Millman.

Future tests will 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 a 50th percentile male dummy is required.

During the first stage, from Sept. 1, 2003 to Aug. 31, 2006, increasing percentages of motor vehicles will be required to meet requirements for reducing air bag risks, either by automatically turning off the air bag in the presence of young children or deploying the air bag in a manner much less likely to cause serious or fatal injury to out-of-position occupants. To test the ability to detect the presence of children, the rule specifies that child dummies be placed in child seats that are, in turn, placed on the passenger seat. It also specifies tests that are conducted with unrestrained child dummies sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying on the passenger seat.

For manufacturers that decide to design their passenger air bags to deploy in a low risk manner, the final rule specifies that unbelted child dummies be placed against the instrument panel. This is because pre-crash braking can move unrestrained children and small adults forward into or near that position before the air bag deploys. The ability of driver air bags to deploy in a low risk manner will be tested by placing the 5th percentile adult female dummy against the steering wheel and then deploying the air bag.

In addition, vehicle manufacturers will be required to meet a rigid barrier crash test with both unbelted 5th percentile adult female dummies and unbelted 50th percentile adult male dummies. The unbelted rigid barrier test replicates what happens to motor vehicles and their occupants in real world crashes better than the current sled test does. The maximum test speed for unbelted dummy testing will be 25 mph.

In light of uncertainty about the need for and consequences of crash tests at a higher speed, this aspect of today=s requirements is being issued as an interim final rule. The Department resolved the uncertainty by choosing a path of least risk for occupants who have been most at risk and has mounted an aggressive multi-year program to obtain additional data. A final decision regarding the maximum test speed will follow a public notice and period for public comment.

The rigid barrier crash test specified in this rule sets new, improved requirements that differ fundamentally from those specified in the past. The previous standard specified only an unbelted and a belted rigid barrier test, and used only one dummy, a 50th percentile adult male dummy. It specified no other requirement that had the effect of limiting the methods and designs used to achieve compliance with the unbelted rigid barrier test.

Other additions in this rule are:

Improved injury criteria. NHTSA is adopting improved injury criteria to assure greater protection by air bags, adding a new neck injury measure making the existing chest injury measures more stringent. The rule also specifies an entire family of test dummies: the existing dummy representing adult males, and new dummies representing small adult females, six-year old children, three-year old children, and one-year old infants.

  • An offset deformable barrier test. Manufacturers will be required to meet a 25 mph offset deformable barrier test using belted 5th percentile adult female dummies to prevent late air bag deployments in certain crashes. A late air bag deployment would allow enough time for an unrestrained occupant to move forward into the steering wheel or instrument panel during a crash before the air bag deploys.
  • During the second stage phase-in, from Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2010, the maximum test speed for the belted rigid barrier test will be increased from 30 mph to 35 mph in tests with the 50th percentile adult male dummy. As in the case of the first-stage requirements, this second-stage requirement will be phased in for increasing percentages of motor vehicles.

    Millman 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.


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