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Daimler Trucks North America, LLC, Receipt of Petition for Decision of Inconsequential Noncompliance

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Buses Topics:  Thomas Built

Daimler Trucks North America, LLC, Receipt of Petition for Decision of Inconsequential Noncompliance

Otto G. Matheke III
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
13 May 2019


[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 92 (Monday, May 13, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 20951-20954]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-09753]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2018-0004; Notice 1]


Daimler Trucks North America, LLC, Receipt of Petition for 
Decision of Inconsequential Noncompliance

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Receipt of petition.

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SUMMARY: Daimler Trucks North America, LLC (DTNA), has determined that 
certain model year (MY) 2013-2018 Thomas Built Buses do not fully 
comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 222, 
School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection. DTNA filed a 
noncompliance report dated November 27, 2017. DTNA in Collaboration 
with SynTec Seating Solutions, LLC ``SynTec'' (the seating 
manufacturer), subsequently petitioned NHTSA on December 15, 2017, and 
later updated it on September 21, 2018, for a decision that the subject 
noncompliance is inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety. 
This document announces receipt of DTNA's petition.

DATES: The closing date for comments on the petition is June 12, 2019.

ADDRESSES: Interested persons are invited to submit written data, 
views, and arguments on this petition. Comments must refer to the 
docket number cited in the title of this notice and submitted by any of 
the following methods:
     Mail: Send comments by mail addressed to the U.S. 
Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West Building 
Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 
20590.
     Hand Delivery: Deliver comments by hand to the U.S. 
Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West Building 
Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 
20590. The Docket Section is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
except for Federal Holidays.
     Electronically: Submit comments electronically by logging 
onto the

[[Page 20952]]

Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) website at https://www.regulations.gov/. Follow the online instructions for submitting 
comments.
     Comments may also be faxed to (202) 493-2251.
    Comments must be written in the English language, and be no greater 
than 15 pages in length, although there is no limit to the length of 
necessary attachments to the comments. If comments are submitted in 
hard copy form, please ensure that two copies are provided. If you wish 
to receive confirmation that comments you have submitted by mail were 
received, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed postcard with the 
comments. Note that all comments received will be posted without change 
to https://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information 
provided.
    All comments and supporting materials received before the close of 
business on the closing date indicated above will be filed in the 
docket and will be considered. All comments and supporting materials 
received after the closing date will also be filed and will be 
considered to the fullest extent possible.
    When the petition is granted or denied, notice of the decision will 
also be published in the Federal Register pursuant to the authority 
indicated at the end of this notice.
    All comments, background documentation, and supporting materials 
submitted to the docket may be viewed by anyone at the address and 
times given above. The documents may also be viewed on the internet at 
https://www.regulations.gov by following the online instructions for 
accessing the dockets. The docket ID number for this petition is shown 
in the heading of this notice.
    DOT's complete Privacy Act Statement is available for review in a 
Federal Register notice published on April 11, 2000, (65 FR 19477-78).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
    I. Overview: DTNA has determined that certain MY 2013-2018 Thomas 
Built Buses do not fully comply with paragraph S5.3.1.3 of FMVSS No. 
222, School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection (49 CFR 
571.222). DTNA filed a noncompliance report dated November 27, 2017, 
pursuant to 49 CFR part 573, Defect and Noncompliance Responsibility 
and Reports. DTNA subsequently petitioned NHTSA on December 15, 2017, 
and later amended it on September 21, 2018, for an exemption from the 
notification and remedy requirements of 49 U.S.C. chapter 301 on the 
basis that this noncompliance is inconsequential as it relates to motor 
vehicle safety, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 30118(d) and 30120(h) and 49 CFR 
part 556, Exemption for Inconsequential Noncompliance or Defect.
    This notice of receipt, of DTNA's petition, is published under 49 
U.S.C. 30118 and 30120 and does not represent any agency decision or 
other exercise of judgment concerning the merits of the petition.
    II. Buses Involved: Affected are approximately 3,222 MY 2013-2018 
versions of the following Thomas Built Buses, manufactured between 
August 24, 2012, and May 1, 2017, specifically:

 Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner C2
 Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner EFX
 Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner HDX
 Thomas Built Buses Minotour DRW

    III. Noncompliance: DTNA explains that the noncompliance is that 
the subject buses are equipped with seats that have Type 2 (lap/
shoulder) seat belts, manufactured by SynTec Seating Solutions, LLC 
(SynTec), that do not meet the head form force distribution impact 
requirement as specified in paragraph S5.3.1.3 of FMVSS No. 222. 
Specifically, the Type 2 seat belts include a plastic bezel, where the 
seat belt is routed through the seat, located within the head 
protection zone.
    IV. Rule Requirements: Paragraph S5.3.1.3 of FMVSS No. 222, titled 
``Head form force distribution'' includes the requirements relevant to 
this petition:

     When any contactable surface of the vehicle within the 
zones specified in paragraph S5.3.1.1 is impacted from any direction 
at 6.7 m/s by the head form described in paragraph S6.6, the energy 
necessary to deflect the impacted material shall be not less than 
4.5 joules before the force level on the head form exceeds 667 N.
     When any contactable surface within such zones is 
impacted by the head form from any direction at 1.5 m/s the contact 
area on the head form surface shall be not less than 1,935 mm\2\.

    V. Summary of DTNA's Petition: DTNA described the subject 
noncompliance and stated its belief that the noncompliance is 
inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety.
    DTNA provided the following background information:
    1. In January 2011, SynTec introduced the M2K lap/shoulder seat in 
order to provide a number of additional safety features to passengers. 
The company sold 2,272 M2K lap/shoulder seats to Thomas Built Buses 
before discontinuing the product in 2012. SynTec then improved upon the 
M2K lap/shoulder seat design with the S3C seat, which the Company 
introduced in 2012. The back of these seats are substantially higher 
than earlier school bus passenger seats and are equipped with lap/
shoulder seat belts. The seat also includes: Color coding and key 
buckles to prevent improper buckling, a fixed buckle anchorage to 
prevent side occupant incursion, flip up buckles in pockets to be out 
of the way from debris, high shoulder anchorage, and contoured seat 
cushion. The plastic ``bezel'' (the location from which the lap/
shoulder harness exits the seat back) was intentionally set high on the 
seat fronts to provide protection to the maximum range of occupants. 
Some M2K and S3C seats also are equipped with an integrated child seat.
    2. To ensure that the Affected Seats complied with all laws and 
regulations, SynTec contracted with a third party, MGA Research 
Corporation (``MGA''), to conduct certification testing under FMVSS No. 
222. Specifically, MGA conducted tests on the M2K seat in June 2011, 
and on the S3C seat in August 2012. The M2K and S3C complied with FMVSS 
No. 222 requirements with respect to the back of the seat. Consistent 
with the industry norm and MGA's past practice, MGA did not test 
targets on the front of the seat. Based on its interactions and 
conversations with MGA, SynTec understood that back seat-only testing 
represents the industry norm. Front of the seat testing is not 
conducted due to the low risk of harm from the front, and because the 
small head impact zone makes it impossible to conduct the test per the 
recommended test procedure. Indeed, as referenced above, the testing 
was designed to ensure that the back of the seat was an energy absorber 
and that various hazards were eliminated from the top. Nonetheless, 
these early MGA tests results, specifically, the product's head injury 
criterion (HIC) values and the strong contact area and impact velocity 
scores on the back of the seat, highlighted the improved safety 
benefits of SynTec's new seat design.
    In support of its petition, DTNA provided the following:
    1. The S5.3.1.3 tests are outmoded for the front of the seat and 
the equipment's HIC scores represent the most accurate accounting of 
the seat's safety.
    2. As highlighted above, the original intent of the contact surface 
test was to precipitate the elimination of metal grab bars and other 
hostile objects above the passenger seats that could come into contact 
with the occupant's head in the event of a crash. See 38 FR 4776 (Feb. 
22, 1973) (Proposed Rule) (stating the goal of ``eliminating exposed 
metal bars and similar designs and making the seat itself a significant 
energy absorber.'') Likewise, the energy deflection analysis

[[Page 20953]]

was designed to ensure that the seat would depress and distribute the 
force of impact in a manner that could not be achieved with exposed 
metal surfaces on the seat.
    3. Although SynTec was noncompliant with these two tests, the 
requirements are now outmoded with respect to the front of the affected 
seats because the various hazards they are seeking to guard against no 
longer exist. Indeed, the noncompliance did not occur because of a 
hazard that the regulations were designed to protect against. Rather, 
as explained below, the noncompliance resulted from a high-placed bezel 
that actually makes the affected seats safer for more occupants. The 
two tests were crafted for a school bus seat design that was 
substantially different and less safe than the superior versions that 
exist in the market today.
    4. Given that these tests are outmoded, the most accurate measure 
of head safety for the front of the seat is the product's HIC value. 
The HIC is the most widely accepted measure of head injury in use 
today. Indeed, it is the standard measure of head injury throughout the 
FMVSSs. See, e.g., FMVSS No. 201 and 208. Similarly, HIC is the metric 
used by NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program. See 80 FR 78522, 78533 
(2015) (noting that the HIC value ``is currently in use in FMVSS No. 
208 and frontal NCAP tests.'') The HIC measure is particularly valuable 
since it accounts for energy absorption and contact area by measuring 
the deceleration of the head form over time.
    5. Over the past few years, both SynTec and NHTSA, internally and 
at accredited external test agencies, have conducted HIC testing on the 
front of the affected seats. During testing, the seats were positioned 
at various angles, and impacts were performed on multiple locations of 
the seat within the head protection zone ``hits'', including on the 
portion of the plastic bezel that protrudes into the top 76 mm on the 
front. These test results always produced a HIC value well below 1,000. 
For instance, since March 2017 SynTec has conducted 253 ``hits'' on the 
front of the seat. The average HIC value during these tests was 114.1, 
with a low score of 51.7 and a high HIC value of 311.8. Even the 
product's highest HIC value falls far short of the 1,000 maximum 
requirement. These values illustrate the safety of SynTec's product and 
the inconsequentiality of the noncompliance with the other FMVSS No. 
222 test requirements.
    6. Simply stated, the tests which prompted DTNA and SynTec's 573 
Reports, are searching for hazards on the front of the seat that do not 
exist in the affected seats. See 38 FR 4776 (Feb. 22, 1973) (Proposed 
Rule). As the product's HIC values show, the technical noncompliance of 
the SynTec seats on these two tests is not relevant to the product's 
safety. Accordingly, NHTSA should grant this petition for 
inconsequentiality.
    7. The source of SynTec's noncompliance enhances the product's 
safety. SynTec's seats are safer than regulators could have envisioned 
in 1976. Indeed, the cause of the noncompliance, the location of the 
plastic bezel, renders the seat safer than it would be with a bezel 
that was not placed in the head protection zone. This higher 
positioning combined with higher seat backs provides a belt for a 
maximum range of occupants and keeps hard objects away from the most 
vulnerable passengers. SynTec utilized automotive best practices and 
BELFIT software from the Motor Industry Research Association to 
determine the optimum geometric place for the belt position. SynTec's 
objective was to provide maximum protection, taking into account the 
wide range of occupant sizes riding on a school bus. Based on this 
analysis, it placed the bezel at the higher portion of the seat. The 
position also allowed for more adjustment by the d-ring, for better 
torso restraint, and for a more comfortable fit (thereby encouraging 
use).
    8. The higher shoulder harnesses also keep hard surfaces away from 
small occupants who are most vulnerable. A typical occupant in the 
vehicle would have a greater chance of coming into contact with a lower 
bezel. In seats with lap/shoulder belts with a lower bezel, the bezel 
would land in a smaller occupant's head area. Similarly, most designs 
that include an integrated child seat, have a hard surface that sits 
behind a smaller occupant's head. In contrast, the affected seat's 
higher bezel location places the bezel outside of a smaller occupant's 
head area. Likewise, for smaller occupants using integrated child 
seats, the bezel also falls outside of the occupant head area. 
Essentially, the higher bezel ensures better protection for the most 
vulnerable riders. Rather than cause any safety issues, the 
noncompliance, which occurred because of the location of the plastic 
bezels, makes the affected seats safer.
    9. The noncompliance at issue relates to front-of-seat tests 
designed to address features that are no longer present in school 
buses, such as metal bars at the top of seat backs and low seat backs. 
Therefore, DTNA believes the noncompliance is inconsequential as it 
relates to school bus safety. Moreover, the location of the plastic 
bezel on the lap/shoulder belts, which is the source of the 
noncompliance, is actually a safety improvement, in that its high 
position allows for maximum occupant ranges and fit, and protects the 
smallest seat occupants. A typical occupant in the vehicle would have a 
greater chance of coming into contact with a compliant lower bezel.
    10. Thus, the design represents an enhanced level of safety for 
school bus occupants, especially younger passengers who are more 
vulnerable in the event of a crash. Consistent with the enhanced safety 
design of the lap/shoulder belt, DTNA is not aware of any complaints, 
injuries or reports of safety concerns regarding this issue.
    11. NHTSA Precedents--DTNA notes that NHTSA has previously granted 
petitions for decisions of inconsequential noncompliance for a wide 
range of issues where a technical non-compliance exists, but does not 
create a negative impact on safety. In the case detailed within this 
petition, the lap/shoulder belt is an optional feature on the vast 
majority of school buses. When added, lap/shoulder belts increase the 
safety of the occupants as compared to a bus without passenger 
seatbelts. Also, the high bezel increases the child protection 
performance requirements by reducing the likelihood of an occupant 
coming into contact with the hard surface. The following examples are 
petitions for inconsequentiality that were granted by NHTSA and are 
described within this petition to support DTNA's argument that, while 
technically non-compliant, NHTSA has previously granted 
inconsequentiality for cases where an additional level of safety above 
the requirements of the standard is provided.
    12. See 70 FR 24464 (May 9, 2005), Docket No. NHTSA 2005-20545 
(Grant of Petition for IC Corporation) for an example of a petition for 
inconsequentiality that was granted by NHTSA. In this instance, school 
buses were manufactured that were not compliant with FMVSS 217, but it 
was deemed inconsequential because it did not compromise safety. ``. . 
. The Agency agrees with IC that in this case the noncompliance does 
not compromise safety in terms of emergency exit capability in 
proportion to maximum occupant capacity, access to side emergency 
doors, visibility of the exits, or the ability of bus occupants to exit 
after an accident.''
    13. See also 63 FR 32694 (June 15, 1998), Docket No. NHTSA 98-3791 
(Grant of Petition for New Flyer of America, Inc.) for another example 
of a petition for inconsequentiality that was

[[Page 20954]]

granted. In this case, non-school buses were manufactured that were not 
compliant with FMVSS 217, but were granted inconsequentiality because 
the buses had additional safety features that were not required in the 
standard. The following quote is from NHTSA's notice granting the 
petition: ``Thus, the buses have the minimum number of emergency exits 
required by FMVSS No. 217. However, these exits were not distributed 
properly. Instead of a second emergency exit on the right side, these 
buses have an additional roof exit. This additional roof exit would 
provide for much need emergency exit openings should the bus occupants 
need to evacuate due to a rollover incident. While this additional roof 
exit is not required by the standard, it does provide for an additional 
level of safety in the above situation. In consideration of the 
foregoing, NHTSA has decided that the applicant has met its burden of 
persuasion that the noncompliance it described above is inconsequential 
to motor vehicle safety.'' Id.
    DTNA expressed the belief that the subject noncompliance is 
inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety, and that its 
petition to be exempted from providing notification of the 
noncompliance, as required by 49 U.S.C. 30118, and a remedy for the 
noncompliance, as required by 49 U.S.C. 30120, should be granted.
    NHTSA notes that the statutory provisions (49 U.S.C. 30118(d) and 
30120(h)) that permit manufacturers to file petitions for a 
determination of inconsequentiality allow NHTSA to exempt manufacturers 
only from the duties found in sections 30118 and 30120, respectively, 
to notify owners, purchasers, and dealers of a defect or noncompliance 
and to remedy the defect or noncompliance. Therefore, any decision on 
this petition only applies to the subject vehicles that DTNA no longer 
controlled at the time it determined that the noncompliance existed. 
However, any decision on this petition does not relieve vehicle 
distributors and dealers of the prohibitions on the sale, offer for 
sale, or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate 
commerce of the noncompliant vehicles under their control after DTNA 
notified them that the subject noncompliance existed.

(Authority: 49 U.S.C. 30118, 30120: Delegations of authority at 49 
CFR 1.95 and 501.8)

Otto G. Matheke III,
Director, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance.
[FR Doc. 2019-09753 Filed 5-10-19; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-59-P

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