Be Careful what you Wish for Toyota

Once upon a time, there was a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for accelerator controls. It was a very ancient standard, written in 1972, when vehicles were equipped with purely mechanical systems. FMVSS 124 Accelerator Control Systems specified the requirements for the return of a vehicle’s throttle to the idle position when the driver removed the actuating force from the accelerator control or in the event of a severance or disconnection in the accelerator control system. Its purpose was “to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from engine overspeed caused by malfunctions in the accelerator control system.”

Decades passed, and so did the mechanical systems, into automotive history. The car makers began to seek the wise counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: did FMVSS 124 apply to electronic systems? Yes it did, NHTSA said. Continue reading

Midnight Regulation Provokes Controversy

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I6; Nov/Dec. 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Designated Seating Position Final Rule has produced confusion around its measuring procedures and provoked controversy for its preemption clause and lack of statistical foundation as the Bush Administration tries to stampede another regulation to completion. Continue reading

NHTSA Publishes Final DSP Rule; SRS Vows Challenge

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I5

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three years after proposing to close the flagrant loopholes in the Designated Seating Position rule, NHTSA has published a Final Rule that tweaks its initial proposal, but fails to address its core weakness – the lack of underlying data to support the change.

The Final Rule, published on October 8, attempts to prevent manufacturers from offering extra rear seating while skirting the requirement for a seat belt in each designated seating position. For years, manufacturers of vehicles with generous rear bench seats equipped with only two three-point belts hung their hats on four words in the current rule’s definition of a designated seating position: “likely to be used.” This allowed automakers to pretend that only two positions in the rear seat were likely to be used, even as consumers were clearly occupying three positions. Continue reading

States Rights Advocates Attack NHTSA Roof Crush Preemption Proposal

A provision in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposed roof crush standard that would preempt state tort law would transfer the societal costs of caring for rollover crash victims to the states, discourage manufacturers from improving vehicles’ crashworthiness and usurp Congressional authority, a diverse group of influential commenters has argued.

For the first time in 32 years, the NHTSA is proposing to strengthen vehicle roofs and extend the standard to cover vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,000 pounds, as part of an alleged “comprehensive plan for reducing the risk of death and serious injury from rollover crashes.” The proposed regulation would increase the force that vehicles are required to withstand from 1.5 to 2.5 times their unloaded vehicle weight and replace the 22,240 Newton maximum force limit for passenger cars. It would also change the certifying test from the current plate movement limit of 5 inches with a new direct limit on headroom reduction. (See The Safety Record, V2, I4). Continue reading

NHTSA Launches Quiet Campaign to Protect Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – If you didn’t already know it was there, you might have missed it entirely in the 45-page proposal to upgrade the roof crush resistance standard: a one-sentence clause tucked in Part 13 amid federal boilerplate, indemnifying manufacturers who met the proposed standard from lawsuits alleging a defect.

Known as a preemption clause, NHTSA’s August 19 proposal was the second time in as many months the federal agency has wrapped civil justice reform and auto safety standards into one package that is rousing the ire of consumer advocates, plaintiffs’ attorneys, and those concerned about Federalism and cost of care transfer from the industry to the public sector. Continue reading