1. August 1996 Petition from AAMA.
As part of AAMA's August 1996 petition requesting that an unbelted sled test be allowed as an alternative to the existing unbelted barrier crash test to facilitate quick depowering of air bags, that organization also petitioned the agency to propose driver and passenger out-of-position occupant test requirements, based on the latest ISO test practices, as a way of testing the injury potential of air bags for those occupants. AAMA recommended that the agency use the Hybrid III 5th percentile adult female dummy at the driver position and an appropriate child dummy at the passenger position. AAMA stated that additional work was needed to more fully develop the ISO protocol to a level appropriate for an amendment to Standard No. 208.
Today's proposal for advanced air bags includes out-of-position occupant requirements based on the ISO test procedures, using the Hybrid III 5th percentile adult female dummy and several child dummies. This notice is therefore in further response to AAMA's petition.
2. September 1996 Petition from Anita Glass Lindsey.
On September 1, 1996, Anita Glass Lindsey submitted a petition to amend Standard No. 208 to specify use of a 5th percentile adult female test dummy in testing vehicles for compliance with the standard's air bag requirements. NHTSA granted the petition in the preamble its NPRM concerning depowering. 62 FR 807, 827; January 6, 1997. The agency stated that it contemplated initiating a new rulemaking proceeding to propose the adoption of a 5th percentile adult female dummy and to specify injury criteria and limits, including neck injury criteria and limits, suitable for that dummy.
Today's proposal for advanced air bags proposes the adoption of the Hybrid III 5th percentile adult female dummy and related test requirements and injury criteria. The notice is therefore in further response to Ms. Lindsey's petition.
3. September 1996 NTSB safety recommendations.
On September 17, 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a number of safety recommendations to NHTSA for reducing the problem of child fatalities caused by air bags. These recommendations are as follows:
Immediately evaluate passenger air bags based on all available sources, including NHTSA's recent crash testing, and then publicize the findings and modify performance and testing requirements, as appropriate, based on the findings of the evaluation. Immediately revise Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, Occupant Crash Protection, to establish performance requirements for passenger air bags based on testing procedures that reflect actual accident environments, including pre-impact braking, out-of-position child occupants (belted and unbelted), properly positioned belted child occupants, and with the seat track in the forward-most position. Evaluate the effect of higher deployment thresholds for passenger air bags in combination with the recommended changes in air bag performance certification testing, and then modify the deployment thresholds based on the findings of the evaluation. Establish a timetable to implement intelligent air bag technology that will moderate or prevent the air bag from deployment if full deployment would pose an injury hazard to a belted or unbelted occupant in the right front seating position, such as a child who is seated too close to the instrument panel, a child who moves forward because of pre-impact braking, or a child who is restrained in a rear-facing child restraint system. Determine the feasibility of applying technical solutions to vehicles not covered by NHTSA's proposed rulemaking of August 1, 1996, to prevent air bag-induced injuries to children in the passenger position. Today's proposal for advanced air bags is responsive to these recommendations.
4. November 1996 Petitions from Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety.
On November 8, 1996, the Center for Auto Safety (CFAS) petitioned the agency to amend Standard No. 208 to specify that a vehicle's air bags must not deploy in a crash if the vehicle's change of velocity is less than 12 mph. CFAS noted that many of the crashes resulting in air bag fatalities, especially those of children, involved very low changes in vehicle velocity.
On November 20, 1996, CFAS and Public Citizen petitioned the agency to begin rulemaking to require dual inflation air bags. In low-speed crashes, these bags would inflate more slowly, and thus less aggressively, than then-current air bags. In higher-speed crashes, they would inflate at the same rate as then-current air bags. The petitioners asserted that their proposal is the best solution in the near future and is superior to depowering, since depowering involves "some trade-off in safety protection and will not add significant protection for unrestrained children."
NHTSA considered and discussed these petitions during its depowering rulemaking. The agency believes that higher deployment thresholds and dual or multiple level inflators are among the available alternatives for reducing adverse effects of air bags. However, NHTSA is not proposing to require either alternative because it believes such a requirement would be unnecessarily design-restrictive, given the other available alternatives.
Moreover, the agency believes that neither a requirement for higher deployment thresholds alone nor a requirement for dual or multiple level inflators would be a sufficient longer term approach for the agency to adopt. NHTSA is concerned that a requirement for higher deployment thresholds would discourage the use of multiple level inflators, which the agency believes offer greater potential benefits. A requirement for multiple level inflators would be inadequate because it would not measure injury risk, e.g., the possibility that even the lower inflation level might cause fatalities to out-of-position occupants.
5. February 1997 Petition from Parents for Safer Air Bags
On February 28, 1997, Parents for Safer Air Bags petitioned NHTSA to (1) investigate the effect of temperature on air bag inflation and (2) incorporate performance requirements in Standard No. 208 that require compliance with the standard at -40 C (-40 F) and at 82 C (180 F).
That organization stated that it had been advised by engineering experts that temperature can materially affect air bag pressure. It supplied a graph showing how inflator performance typically varies by temperature in a tank test. It expressed concern that an occupant in Minnesota in the winter may "bottom out" as a result of excessive depowering while an occupant in Arizona in the summer may be struck with excessive bag punch even with depowering.
The Parents' Coalition stated that it had been advised that the most effective test protocol to insure proper air bag performance in variant climatic conditions is a static deployment with pendulum loading that simulates occupant acceleration and tests for bottom out and rebound. The petitioner stated that the air bag inflator and module should be cooled to -40 F. (and heated to 180 F.) and then tested at those temperatures.
NHTSA agrees that temperature will have an effect on any gas. Since air bag inflation is dependent on gas, temperature may have an effect on inflation characteristics. Therefore, the agency agrees that the vehicle manufacturers need to take account of temperature issues as they design their air bags. The agency notes, however, that few if any people would operate their vehicles at the extreme temperatures cited by the petitioner. Moreover, to the extent that an inflator was at an extreme temperature at the beginning of a trip, the temperature would likely move close to the occupant compartment's operating temperature after a few minutes.
The agency believes that the relevant issues to consider in responding to the Parents' Coalition petition are whether this is an issue which needs to be addressed by Federal regulation and, if so, what type of regulation. NHTSA has tentatively concluded that there is not a demonstrated need to include temperature requirements in Standard No. 208, but it is requesting comments on this issue.
NHTSA notes that, in issuing today's proposal for advanced air bags, the agency has tentatively concluded that a substantial number of additional performance requirements need to be added to Standard No. 208 to ensure that the vehicle manufacturers design their air bags to provide appropriate protection under a wider variety of circumstances. However, in the context of a statutory scheme requiring the agency to issue performance requirements (as opposed to one requiring design requirements or government approval), it is neither appropriate nor possible for the agency to address every real world variable that can affect safety. Ultimately, the vehicle manufacturers must be expected to design their vehicles not only so they meet the performance requirements specified by the Federal motor vehicle safety standards, but also in light of the full range of real world conditions their vehicles will experience.
Based on an examination of available data, NHTSA is not aware of a need to add temperature requirements to Standard No. 208. The agency has evaluated its Special Crash Investigations of air bag fatalities and serious injuries, and has been unable to find any relationship between temperature and air-bag-induced injuries.
NHTSA also believes that it would be relatively difficult to develop temperature requirements that would be appropriate for Standard No. 208. The agency does not believe that a pendulum test, by itself, would be desirable because it would not measure injury criteria.
However, the agency believes that manufacturers can, and should, consider temperature performance as they design their air bags. They are in a position to know how significant temperature variation is to the performance of a particular air bag design, and can conduct the kinds of testing that are suited to each such design.
As indicated above, while the agency has tentatively concluded that there is not a need to include temperature requirements in Standard No. 208, it is requesting comments on this issue. The agency is particularly interested in receiving comments from air bag manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers concerning what testing and other steps they have taken to ensure that air bag performance is appropriate under varying temperature conditions, the steps they have taken in the context of depowering their air bags (e.g., how they may have addressed the possibility that depowered air bags might be more likely to "bottom out" in cold temperatures), and how they plan to address the issue in the context of advanced air bag designs.
6. April 1998 Petition from CFAS, Consumer Federation of America, Parents for Safer Air Bags, and Public Citizen.
On April 20, 1998, CFAS, Consumer Federation of America, Parents for Safer Air Bags, and Public Citizen submitted a joint petition requesting that the agency upgrade Standard No. 208 to include testing of the "family of dummies" in (1) barrier tests up to and including 30 mph (belted and unbelted), (2) moderate speed off-set deformable barrier tests (belted and unbelted), and (3) static tests with out-of-position dummies. The petitioners stated that this comprehensive set of tests would ensure that air bag systems are safe and effective in "real world" crash conditions, not just in the "single crash scenario" in the present standard.
The petitioners argued that the present requirements in Standard No. 208 are under-inclusive, since they require testing only of the properly positioned, average-sized adult male dummy in a 30 mph collision. They stated that the standard omits testing of child sized dummies, small women dummies, out-of-position dummies, and dummies of any size and position in low-speed collisions. The petitioners also stated that the standard omits off-set crashes into a deformable barrier--tests that reveal the ability of the crash sensor to promptly detect the crash event and deploy the bag before the occupant has had time to move dangerously close to the air bag.
According to the petitioners, these gaps in Standard No. 208 have allowed air bag systems to enter the market that have caused severe and fatal injuries to child passengers and small women drivers in minor collisions. The petitioners believe that the solution is the upgrading of Standard No. 208's air bag performance requirements, as summarized earlier in this section.
The petitioners also emphasized that they believe the unbelted 30 mph barrier test should be reinstated. Noting that some automobile manufacturers are urging permanent elimination of that test in favor of the current sled test option, the petitioners stated that the agency should reject this recommendation due to the serious inadequacies of the sled test. Among other things, the petitioners stated that the sled test (1) uses a "fictitious" 125 millisecond crash pulse that fails to account for the fact that some vehicles have a much faster crash pulse; (2) does not allow observation of how the vehicle crushes; (3) does not allow observation of the occupant's interaction with the vehicle structure in an actual crash (the so-called occupant "kinematics"); and (4) fails to test the effectiveness of the vehicle's crash sensors.
NHTSA notes that it received this petition as it was nearing completion of its proposal for advanced air bags. Nonetheless, the agency has carefully analyzed the petition. The agency believes that while not identical, today's proposal is essentially consistent with the approach recommended by the petitioners. Accordingly, the agency has decided to grant the petition and views today's proposal as responsive to the petition.
NHTSA notes that it agrees with the petitioners that the current requirements of Standard No. 208 are under-inclusive and need to be upgraded. However, the agency believes it is incorrect to characterize the standard's longstanding barrier test requirements as "a single crash scenario." Given that the current standard specifies that vehicles must be able to comply with the barrier test at different speeds, different angles, and with both belted and unbelted dummies,(23) the standard simulates a wide variety of real world crash scenarios. However, the agency agrees that the standard needs to be upgraded so that it directly addresses a number of crash scenarios not simulated by the barrier test, such as ones involving out-of-position occupants.