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Auto and Road User Journal
February 1, 1997
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President Clinton Unveils New Universal Child Seat Attachment System to Make Installation Safer, Easier
NHSTA Announces Comprehensive Plan to Improve Air Bag Technology and Reduce Air Bag Dangers
Lime-Yellow Fire Trucks Safer Than Red
Coping with Driver Fatigue
Maryland Man Amazed
Drivers Voice Support for Zero Tolerance, Graduated Licensing
Insurance Institute Publishes Vehicle Death Rate Comparisons for 1990-94
Improving Highways for Older Driver Use
Insurance Institute Video Describes Steps to Airbag Safety















Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

NHTSA Issues Final Rule; Proposes Two Changes to Reduce Air Bag Dangers: DOT Press Release, December 30, 1996

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today issued a final regulation and two proposed regulations in its continuing effort to preserve the benefits of air bags, while minimizing their danger to children and at-risk adults.

The two proposed regulations include plans for the depowering of air bags and procedures for deactivation of air bags in certain circumstances. In a continuation of the administration's comprehensive approach, the final rule adopted today continues the automakers' option of installing cut-off switches in vehicles without a rear seat for children. There will be a 30-day comment period, shortened to expedite completion, for the proposals before the issuance of final rules.

"By the end of this year, air bags will have saved more than 1,700 lives, but we can and will do more to minimize their potential hazards. These proposals are the next step in the rapid execution of our comprehensive strategy to address the air bag issues of today and enhance car safety for the future, culminating in the smart systems which will appear in model year 1999," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D.

Following is a summary of the regulatory actions announced today by NHTSA:

  • Extended availability of switches. A final rule extends the agency's existing policy of permitting manufacturers to install manual cutoff switches in vehicles without a back seat, or with a back seat that is too small to install a child safety seat. A cutoff switch enables the driver of a pickup truck, for example, to disable the passenger side air bag when a child is in the front seat, and turn it back on for an adult passenger.

  • Depowering for safety. A notice of proposed rulemaking that would authorize manufacturers to depower air bags temporarily an average of 20-35 percent, thereby reducing the deployment force. This proposal would be in place until smart air bag technology is phased into new motor vehicles.

    NHTSA believes that this level of depowering will reduce the incidence of injury and improve the performance of air bags for children, small stature adults and other belted occupants, while still providing significant protection for unbelted occupants. NHTSA is seeking comments on its proposed changes to the federal standards and it expects them to be implemented before the start of model year 1998.

  • Deactivation for special cases. A notice of proposed rulemaking would permit dealers and repair shops to deactivate the air bags of any owner who requests it. As opposed to the current policy of case-by-case approval by NHTSA, the proposal is intended to provide families who need to transport infants in the front seat, individuals with certain medical conditions, and others who are concerned about potential air bag dangers, with an expedited legal avenue to turn them off. Existing federal law prohibits dealers from making any safety equipment inoperative. If this proposal becomes final, automobile dealers and repair shops will be asked to help their customers make informed decisions by providing them with NHTSA guidance on the pros and cons of deactivating the air bag system. The agency expects that very few will need to take this extreme action, and those who do will be made aware of the risks involved. The dealers and repair shops will be permitted to deactivate the air bags upon the written authorization of their customer. They must also install labels indicating that air bags have been disabled.

"Today's action is part of a multi-pronged strategy including a labeling proposal published in November and a forthcoming proposal that will mandate smart air bags starting in Model Year 1999," Dr. Martinez added.

"It is important to add that children age 12 and under should always ride in the back seat, buckled up, and away from the air bag. Regulatory actions will make tomorrow's air bags safer for children, but too many are at risk in the interim if parents do not insist children ride in the back seat," Dr. Martinez said.

NHTSA officials noted that, overall, air bags are working well and are responsible for an 11 percent reduction in driver fatalities in passenger cars, including a 30 percent reduction in fatalities in head-on crashes.

Consumers who have questions or concerns about air bags should contact the agency's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline at (800) 424-9393. For up-to-date information on air bag issues, contact NHTSA's World Wide Web site at: http:/www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on the air bag icon. Comments on the rulemaking announced today should be sent by Feb. 5, 1997 to NHTSA, Technical Reference Division, Docket Numbers 74-14-107, 74-14-108, 74-14-109, 400 Seventh St., S.W., Washington D.C. 20590.


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