The agency is proposing to upgrade Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, to require advanced air bags. The advanced air bags would be required in some new passenger cars and light trucks beginning September 1, 2002, and in all new cars and light trucks beginning September 1, 2005.
The agency is proposing to add a new set of requirements to prevent air bags from causing injuries and to expand the existing set of requirements intended to ensure that air bags cushion and protect occupants in frontal crashes. There would be several new performance requirements to ensure that the advanced air bags do not pose unreasonable risks to out-of-position occupants. The proposal gives alternative options for complying with those requirements so that vehicle manufacturers would be free to choose from a variety of effective technological solutions and to develop new ones if they so desire. With this flexibility, they could use technologies that modulate or otherwise control air bag deployment so deploying air bags do not cause serious injuries or that prevent air bag deployment if children or out-of-position occupants are present. To ensure that the new air bags are designed to avoid causing injury to a broad array of occupants, the agency would test the air bags using test dummies representing 12-month-old, 3-year-old, and 6-year-old children and 5th percentile adult females.
The agency is also proposing to ensure that the new air bags are designed to cushion and protect a broader array of belted and unbelted occupants, including teenagers and small women. The standard's current dynamic crash test requirements specify the use of 50th percentile adult male dummies only. Under the proposal, the agency would also use 5th percentile adult female dummies in the future. The weight and size of these dummies are representative of not only small women, but also many teenagers.
In addition to the existing rigid barrier test, representing a relatively "stiff" or "hard" pulse crash in perpendicular tests and a more moderate pulse crash in angled tests, the agency is proposing to add a deformable barrier crash test, representing a relatively "soft" pulse crash. In relatively "soft" pulse crashes, some current air bags do not deploy until after the occupants have moved so far forward that they are near the air bag cover when deployment begins. Such "late deployments" lead to high risks of injury. This proposed new crash test requirement is intended to ensure that air bag systems are designed so that the air bag deploys earlier, before normally seated occupants, including small-statured ones, move too close to the air bag. The agency is proposing to use 5th percentile adult female dummies in this test. If an air bag opens in time for small-statured occupants, who generally sit relatively far forward, it will open in time for taller occupants, who sit farther back.
The agency is proposing to phase out the unbelted sled test option as requirements for advanced air bags are phased in. Finally, NHTSA is proposing new and/or upgraded injury criteria for all of the standard's test requirements.