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Mineta calls for improved side-impact protection

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta this week proposed a major regulatory upgrade in side-impact crash protection for all passenger vehicles.

The proposed upgrade, developed by the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), would require auto manufacturers to provide head protection in side crashes for the first time. It would also enhance thorax and pelvis protection for a wider range of vehicle occupants involved in such crashes.

In addition, the upgrade – which would strengthen Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 214 – represents a significant advance in the use of crash test dummies. For the first time, a dummy representing a small adult female would be used in side-impact performance testing. A new and more technically advanced dummy representing an adult male of average height also would be used in such crash testing.

"This change in the way new vehicles are tested would take our safety program to a new level and have a dramatic, positive effect on traffic-related fatalities," Mineta said.

NHTSA estimates that the change would save 700 to 1000 lives per year. NHTSA also estimates that, in serious side-impact crashes involving at least one fatality, nearly 60 percent of those killed have suffered brain injuries.

"We expect that this rigorous requirement will spur the introduction of a comprehensive array of technologies for side-impact protection. The proposal represents a major step toward safer vehicles," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.

While NHTSA does not require specific technologies to meet its performance standards, manufacturers would likely meet this upgraded rule with various types of innovative head, chest and pelvis protection systems, such as side air bags.
Issued today by NHTSA, the proposed regulatory upgrade could become a final rule as early as 2005, with a phase-in for all new vehicles beginning four years after publication of a final rule.

This upgraded rule would augment the current side-impact standard by requiring manufacturers to meet an additional performance test involving a 20-mph vehicle side impact into a rigid pole at an approach angle of 75 degrees.

The new pole test reflects real world side-impact collisions in which head injuries are prevalent. A large number of deaths in such crashes occur when a single vehicle strikes a tree or a utility pole. Other dangerous side-impact crashes often happen when a large vehicle strikes a smaller one at an intersection.

"Our goal is to protect all sizes of people, whether they are hit by an SUV or a pickup truck, or run into a tree," Dr. Runge said.

The new female crash test dummy called for in the proposed rule represents a 4-foot 11 inch woman. Use of this dummy – along with the more technically advanced male dummy – will promote the development of head and thorax protection systems that will provide improved side-impact safety for a wider segment of the population.

Posted on the NHTSA Web Site is a series of graphics related to the proposed upgrade:

NHTSA will accept comments on this notice of proposed rulemaking for the next 150 days

Written comments concerning it should be sent to the DOT Docket Facility, Attn: Docket No. NHTSA 2004-17694, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh St., S.W., Washington, DC 20590-0001, or faxed to (202) 493-2251. The notice also will be available for viewing at Comments may also be submitted electronically via this Web site.

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