A Better Way to Spot the Tot: Rear View Cameras!

Four years after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tried to take the public education route around the problem of backovers caused by vehicles with poor rearward visibility, the agency is proposing the first-ever safety standard to stem the flow of pedestrian injury and death.

Friday, NHTSA announced that it was a rearview visibility performance standard, specifying what the driver should be able to see, which would most likely compel automakers to install rear-mounted cameras and in-board vehicle displays in all new vehicles by 2014. The agency was rushing to meet a statutory February 28, 2011 deadline for a Final Rule.

No small measure of thanks is due to the persistence of Janette Fennell and her advocacy organization, KidsAndCars.org. Longtime activist Fennell began collecting data on backover injury and death more than a decade ago. At the time, NHTSA refused to acknowledge the problem because nearly all of the incidents occurred in private driveways rather than on public roads. Continue reading

The Right Way and the Wrong Way



On the eve of a vote on a Final Rule to establish the new database, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioners Anne Northup and Nancy Nord, have proposed an alternative to newly mandated consumer product safety database from that recommended by the staff. In a recent blog post entitled, “A Wrong Way and a Right Way – Which Will We Choose?” Commissioner Nord details the specific aspects of the database rule that prompted this Hail Mary pass: who can submit complaints and inaccurate information.

“Congress provided us with a list of those whose complaints should go up on the public database.  We have contorted the plain language Congress used into definitions that have no meaning.  For example, Congress told us to accept complaints from “consumers.”  The majority has determined that since everyone consumes something, we need to accept complaints from everyone—no need for any relationship to the product, harm or incident.  Think plaintiff lawyers trolling for clients or unscrupulous competitors wishing to harm a product’s reputation,” Nord writes. Continue reading

CPSC Puts Information in Hands of Consumers

After taking comments from the public, and by that we mean, the remarks of a handful of advocates and consumers and the complaints of 33 trade organization reps and business owners, the U.S. Product Safety Commission is now preparing to vote on a Final Rule to establish a consumer complaint database.

The database represents a sea-change in the accessibility of consumer product information, wresting control from manufacturers, who held sway over the flow of public information for nearly three decades.

SRS President Sean Kane, who testified before the CPSC at a public hearing on the database, urged the agency to build a public database by fusing sufficient detail on the product and problem and public availability of the data in a timely fashion. Continue reading

SRS Releases Update Report: Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Eight months have passed since Congress called out NHTSA and Toyota for failing to address Sudden Unintended Acceleration. The agency and the automaker claim they’ve learned nothing new about the problem, but there’s nothing wrong with our learning curve. Behind the barrage of PR are all those niggling little facts, and once again, SRS has assembled them into the go-to Toyota SUA reference guide.

Update Report: Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration

15 Passenger Vans: Still Dangerous After All These Years

Saturday’s 15-passenger van crash that killed six and injured eight members of a Bronx church is a somber reminder that the vehicle remains the only one in the U.S. fleet today that is deadly if used as a 15-passenger van. NHTSA long-ago whiffed on recalling the unstable vehicles, instead relying on manufacturers’ good intentions and consumer warnings, and the preventable carnage continues.

The 1997 Ford Econoline van, loaded with 14 members of the Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies and their luggage, was on its way to a church event in Schenectady, NY when the left rear tire failed on the New York Thruway. The van rolled over, scattering occupants and suitcases on the median. Continue reading

Could Crib Tents Become a Regulated Product?

On December 27, 2008, the strangulation death of Noah Thompson by a Tots In Mind crib tent became the first to be investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission involving this unregulated product. Eighteen months later, in July, the commission and the manufacturer finally announced a recall featuring a repair remedy for the attachment clips.

The Thompson case underscores two continuing weaknesses in the regulatory framework meant to ensure the safety of juvenile products: long gaps between the time when a product is deemed hazardous and a recall, and the difficulty in dealing with baby products that fall outside of the CPSC regulations and are not manufactured to any voluntary or mandatory standard.

The CPSC says that the Tots In Mind recall may only be the first action it takes to protect toddlers from the design deficiencies of crib tents. Continue reading

No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota

The Wall Street Journal made a splash yesterday when it reported that the US DOT had analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota vehicles in crashes blamed on unintended acceleration and found that the throttles were open and brakes were not applied.  These findings support Toyota’s position that SUA events are not caused by vehicle electronics, the Journal claimed.  The Journal apparently based its report on information leaked by Toyota, because NHTSA is denying any involvement.

Toyota’s efforts to place the story with the Journal seem to be paying dividends –  literally. The automaker’s stock rose 1 percent on the news and reporters scrambled to repeat the Journal piece with no independent sources. Continue reading

Caught in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act

The reviews on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 are coming in and we’re not sure, but there may be enough opposition to start a 1,000,000 People Strong Against the Waxman/Rockefeller Bill group on Facebook.

The legislation, proffered by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee and Sen. John Rockefeller’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation would require NHTSA to establish four new standards to prevent unintended acceleration and mandate system redundancy and toughen the current Event Data Recorder standard. The legislation would also establish a new Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies and arm the agency with bigger civil penalties and the authority to order a recall in the case of imminent threat of injury and death. It proposes to give the public more information in the Early Warning Reports – changing the presumption of disclosure from major secrecy to maximum disclosure. Continue reading

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010: A Crisis Well Spent

Congress has never been one to let a motor vehicle crisis go to waste, and the Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration debacle has been no exception. Hearings before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has revealed some distressing regulatory gaps – such as a federal motor vehicle safety standard for accelerator controls that was established in 1972 and has never been amended to account for electronic throttles.

The committee and its Senate counterpart have introduced the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, which, if sees passage, will compel NHTSA to establish four new standards and beef up the current Event data Recorder standard – all with the aim of preventing unintended acceleration and requiring redundancies which will allow a driver to control of a runaway vehicle. The standards are:

Pedal Placement Standard

Requires NHTSA to promulgate a new standard that prevents pedal entrapment as a source of unintended acceleration by establishing minimum clearances for foot pedals with respect to other pedals, the vehicle floor, and any other potential obstructions.

Electronic Systems Performance Standard

Requires NHTSA to establish minimum performance standards for electronic systems in passenger vehicles.

Keyless Ignition Systems Standard

Requires NHTSA to promulgate a new standard that requires that passenger vehicles with keyless ignitions systems have consistent means to allow for a driver to stop or slow a vehicle during an emergency.

Transmission Configuration

Requires NHTSA to promulgate a new standard that requires an intuitive configuration and labeling of gear shift controls that ensures the neutral position is conspicuous to drivers who may need to use it in an emergency.

Vehicle Event Data Recorders

Requires NHTSA to promulgate a rule that requires that all vehicles be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements of the existing voluntary standard issued by NHTSA. Requires a second new rule to establish that all event data recorders must be temperature, water, crash, and tamper resistant, to increase the amount and type of data that must be recorded, to make the data more accessible to investigators, and to establish ownership, privacy, and disclosure requirements regarding data collected by the recorders.

This bill is proposed in the grand tradition of political will overcoming regulatory inertia. On many an important safety issue, manufacturers have vigorously opposed any and all attempts to update outmoded safety standards citing the usual litany: This will ruin us! We like your concept, but everything is wrong with your execution; We see no problem here; Don’t worry, we’re on it! Then, NHTSA twiddles its thumbs for decades so that manufacturers don’t get their knickers in a twist and the preventable carnage continues.

The legislation also attempts to strengthen NHTSA’s competence by establishing a new Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies at the agency. It gives NHTSA a bigger stick against automakers who would flout the regulations by increasing the amount of civil penalty NHTSA can seek per violation and eliminate the maximum civil penalty allowed and by giving NHTSA the authority to order a recall if it finds an imminent threat of injury and death. It gives the public more information — changing the presumption of disclosure under TREAD’s early Warning Report to maximum disclosure and an improved public website database that allows users to better search and aggregate data.

From the great moments in auto safety:

Manufacturers could surreptitiously recall a vehicle – or its substantial U.S. equivalent – for a safety defect in a foreign market and never tell NHTSA. This proved to be Ford’s undoing in the Explorer-Wilderness ATX debacle a decade ago. Ford recalled the tires, which had an unfortunate propensity for catastrophic failure, causing the unstable SUV to rollover. When SRS broke the story that Ford was replacing the tires in Venezuela, but not here, all hell broke loose and the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act was born. The TREAD Act also created the Early Warning Reporting system.

In hindsight, it seems crazy that manufacturers were required to fully protect front seat occupants with shoulder-lap belts but permitted to let rear-seat occupants roll the dice with lap-only belts. But that’s how they rolled back in the day. Automakers had to provide three-point belts in front seats since 1968. But, despite mounting evidence of the need for shoulder-lap belts in rear seating positions and petitions from safety advocates and a recommendation the National Transportation Safety Board, NHTSA didn’t take a real interest in requiring rear outboard shoulder lap-belts until the 1980s, when Congress held a series of oversight hearings excoriating the agency for dragging its feet. Amendments to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and the Motor Vehicle Cost Savings Act in 1987 required that NHTSA complete a rulemaking requiring rear seat outboard position shoulder belts in the next 14 months. The agency didn’t get around to posting an NPRM until 1988 and the Final Rule was sorted out in 1990. Rear seats didn’t three-point belts in outboard positions until 1991.

Automotive safety for children? Don’t get us started.

In 1974, Australia’s Department of Motor Transport kindly pointed out to NHTSA that the nascent child safety seat standards totally ignored the safety needs of older and heavier children who were too big for child safety seats.  NHTSA totally ignored this rather commonplace observation – for 28 years. It did give rise to a spate of articles in the pediatric journals about Seat Belt Syndrome – the catastrophic injuries to children caused by lap belts. It wasn’t until the grieving mother of 4-year-old Anton Skeen, who died after his seatbelt failed to restrain him in a rollover, began pushing that Congress compelled the agency to regulate occupant safety for older children. Under Anton’s Law, passed in 2002, NHTSA required boosted the requirements from 50 to 65 pounds. And finally, finally in 2004, the agency required shoulder lap belts in all rear seating positions.

For many years, NHTSA operated under a Vegas-type philosophy: What happens in the driveway stays in the driveway. That attitude resulted in child injuries and deaths from non-traffic, but automotive design related problems such as power window strangulations and backovers involving honking SUVs with sizeable blind zones. The agency refused to even gather data on these incidents, because no data, no problem. But activists, such as Janette Fennell of Kids and Cars, entreated Congress to take up the cause, and after five years of lobbying the Cameron-Gilbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act became law compelling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to – for the first time –  develop a rearward visibility standard, mandate a brake-to-shift-interlock and require power windows to have an automatic reverse feature.

While Congressional investigation has yet to shed light on why Toyotas experience non-mechanical forms of unintended acceleration, we can take solace in future rulemakings that will at least give drivers a fighting chance to avoid a crash in an SUA event.

What Are You Lookin’ At?

Last week, TMS President Jim Lentz was full of fun facts to know and tell the committee on Energy and Commerce. For example:

“The company has completed more than 600 on-site vehicle inspections and our dealership technicians have completed an additional 1,400 inspections. We have submitted 701 field technical reports to this Committee, including on-site SMART team evaluations. These examinations are giving us a better understanding about the reasons for unintended acceleration complaints. Significantly, none of these investigations have found that our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence, or ETCS-i, was the cause.” Continue reading