WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. government wants new passenger
vehicles to provide head protection in dangerous side-impact
crashes, which kill thousands of motorists every year and leave
others with serious brain injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday
issued rules requiring the improved safety protections in new
passenger vehicles by September 2012.
The upgrades, which have been under review since 2004, are
designed to reduce deaths and injuries of motorists who are struck
by another car or truck along the vehicle's side. Side-impact
crashes killed 9,200 people and injured 650,000 in 2005, the most
recent figures available.
Changes to the safety systems could save 311 lives and prevent
361 serious injuries a year, the agency estimated, through the
installation of side air bags that protect a person's chest and
abdomen and window curtain air bags guarding the head.
Nicole Nason, the safety agency's administrator, said the crashes
often lead to debilitating injuries. ``Even people who survive the
crash can end up with long-term medical costs and permanent brain
injuries, so we think (the rules) are important for both injuries
and fatalities,'' she said.
Automakers said they were receptive to the changes. In 2003, the
industry agreed to install side air bags in all new passenger
vehicles by September 2009 and the safety equipment is becoming more
Dave McCurdy, the head of the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor
Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and others, said they shared NHTSA's goal of
``enhancing head protection'' in side crashes.
Under the government's plan, automakers will be required to
phase-in the head protection beginning with the 2010 model year,
with full compliance by the 2013 model year. It will increase the
average vehicle cost by US$33.
The rules do not require specific technologies to meet the
standards, but automakers will likely use side curtain air bags and
air bags that protect the chest and abdomen. Nearly half of 2008
model year vehicles offer the air bag combination.
Auto manufacturers will need to comply with a new test that
simulates a vehicle striking a tree or a pole in the driver's side.
They will also need to conduct crash tests using dummies the size of
a small woman and a more technologically advanced male dummy of
Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates for
Highway and Auto Safety, said the rule provided more focus on head
injuries of motorists in the back seat and would take into account a
wider range of people. But he said it failed to do enough to protect
Safety groups have pointed to the benefits of side air bags. A
study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found
driver deaths were reduced by 52 per cent in sport utility vehicles
equipped with head-protecting side air bags, while the same air bags
reduced driver deaths by 37 per cent in passenger cars.
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