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March 17, 2007


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About Current Developments: Periodically we update Current Developments with brief summaries of important news, along with links to source materials. To find earlier stories on these and other issues, use the “search” tool or scan Current Developments archives for past periods.

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Two additions have been made to our “For Consumers” vehicle safety rating information. The Car Book ratings for 2007 vehicles have been added to the ratings for 2005 and 2006 models, and the “vehicles with lowest death rate list” has been updated and is current as of February 2007. Click on the “For Consumers” link to navigate to that section.

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Recent White House decisions on the safety and health regulatory front are being welcomed by business interests but sharply opposed by consumer groups and their allies.

The New York Times reports that a recent Bush directive gives the president “much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy,” by requiring that each agency “have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries.”

The White House “will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities,” the paper said. “This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.”

According to the paper, the Bush directive “says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify ‘the specific market failure’ or problem that justifies government intervention.”

Meanwhile, the Times article said, a battle is brewing over the nomination of Susan E. Dudley to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. (See September, 2006 Current Development Archive.) The nomination was stalled in the last Congress, then resubmitted in January 2007. It faces strong opposition from safety and consumer groups, but the president could appoint her to an interim term when the Senate next recesses.

Some of Ms. Dudley’s views are reflected in the executive order, the newspaper noted. In a primer on regulation written in 2005, while she was at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Ms. Dudley said that government regulation was generally not warranted “in the absence of a significant market failure.”

Finally, another Bush nomination, this one to the chairmanship of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has drawn “vehement opposition” from consumer groups and Democrats, the Consumer Affairs website reports. Michael E. Baroody is the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). “NAM is one of the nation's largest trade groups and it opposes aggressive product safety regulation,” the website noted. “Ann Brown, the CPSC's chairman from 1994-2001, laughed in shock when ConsumerAffairs.Com informed her in an interview that Bush was expected to nominate a NAM executive.”

"I intend to give his nomination thorough scrutiny," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a Commerce Committee member, said in a statement. "Here was a golden opportunity to put a true champion of consumers onto a very important commission, and instead President Bush selected someone who represents the special interests…This administration seems incapable of doing anything in the public interest."

Baroody has a long history of Republican ties and anti-consumer regulation, the website noted. In a feature article, the Los Angeles Times described his extensive anti-regulatory and pro-business activities over the past decades. It also noted that because CPSC has been without a chairman for many months, it is no longer empowered to take formal actions on consumer product issues.

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Should the government modify and strengthen the ratings and tests used in its New Car Assessment Program system, and if so, by how much? NHTSA’s announced intention to make changes in the vehicle-by-vehicle safety information system (see January 2007 Current Development archive) has drawn comments and suggestions from a wide range of sources, many of them expressed at an agency one-day hearing on the subject on March 7. A NHTSA press release said the agency will accept comments on the matter until April 10.

Even before the hearing a leading newspaper had criticized the plan for failures. In an editorial, the New York Times called the effort “long overdue but still likely to fall short of what’s needed. In far too many cases, the tests are weaker than they should be and fail to address current kinds of accidents, like what happens when one of today’s larger vehicles collides with a smaller one.” Among other failings, the Times editorial said, “the tests have not kept pace with the times as more sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickups have taken to the roads… For everyone’s safety, consumer advocates and vehicle insurers should press hard for the strongest possible tests and standards.”

At the hearing, leading consumer advocacy groups strongly urged NHTSA to considerably toughen the NCAP program. In an extensive article about the hearing, the Detroit News said that automakers supported an approach which would replace the present system – five star rankings in three vehicle safety categories – with a single ranking. But the president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts its own crash test and rating program “offered harsh criticism of NHTSA's proposal, calling it ‘timid.’

“He noted that as far back as 1994, NHTSA had held a public hearing about reforming its new car assessment program and had done little. He also said NHTSA has been delinquent in doing research, noting that it still isn't considering roof strength in assessing new cars.” He also said NHTSA “should not focus all of its efforts on crash-avoidance technologies -- like electronic stability control -- at the expense of insuring that vehicles were crash-worthy; that in the event of the crash, safety systems will protect them.”

A major problem with the program is that nearly all vehicles pass current tests, the Detroit News pointed out. “Eight-seven percent of 2006 vehicles received four or five stars (out of five possible) for side impact crashes, and 95 percent earned top marks for frontal crashes.”

Along with IIHS, Public Citizen was critical of the NHTSA approach for its weaknesses. In her testimony at the hearing, the group’s president praised NHTSA’s intent and the NCAP program in general, but added:

That “the agency has omitted many critical issues necessary for NCAP to be adequately updated. These critical issues include rating vehicles for rear occupant protection, improving the current test used for rating rollover protection, adding an aggressivity rating system, rating child safety restraints, creating a pedestrian rating, rating vehicle performance in rear-impact crashes, and adding an offset frontal crash test rating. I also urge the agency to test and rate both front and rear occupant seating positions in a vehicle through NCAP, which would provide consumers with critical information about vehicle safety that is currently not available. Furthermore, the agency should reform its scoring system from stars to letter grades to assist in consumer understanding of the rating system.”

The Center for Auto Safety responded to the NHTSA approach by calling not only for a tougher ratings system but also for a substantially broadened, more comprehensive consumer information program. Among other things, it criticized the agency’s current failure to post on its website Technical Service Bulletins and Service Campaigns which car companies issue to dealers for correction of vehicle flaws, its failure to require that new cars be labeled at point of sale with data about their safety performance, and its lack of a consumer information test and rating for vehicle roof crush in rollovers, and its failure to dependability make available information about its potential defect investigations on its website.

“If NHTSA wants to expand its consumer information program to adequately cover Defect Investigations which result in recalls or which are closed because the manufacturer has issued a TSB or a Service Campaign, then the agency must publish TSBs and Service Campaign on its website arranged by make and model exactly in the same make and model terminology as used in the NCAP crash ratings,” it said.

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The Boston Globe reports that auto industry opposition to NHTSA’s proposed modifications to the roof crush standard, FMVSS 216, is increasing. This is the same proposal that consumer and safety groups have sharply criticized for its weaknesses and alleged failure to provide adequate protection against roof-crush injury in rollovers. (For past coverage, search Current Development Archives for “FMVSS 216.”)

According to the newspaper, “more robust opposition to the government's update of the 30-year-old standard has crystallized over several months…” It notes that rollovers “account for roughly 10,000 fatalities annually or a quarter of all U S traffic deaths, federal safety figures show. About 600 deaths and 800 injuries are caused by head contact with a collapsed roof in a rollover.”

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An investigative report in the Los Angeles Times says that NHTSA’s “culture of secrecy” is discouraging publication of data revealing “dangerous intersections and hazardous freeway segments” where fatal accidents are occurring. “Such information is readily available, but the federal government won't let the public have it,” the report concludes.

It documents the experience of a highway safety researcher who discovered a few years ago that federal regulators were collecting the global coordinates of fatal accidents, linking them to its FARS database, and publishing them on its website. “He downloaded the data to his computer, but a few days later it was gone from the website. He called the agency and explained that the data had disappeared and he would like the agency to repost it. Officials called the posting a mistake and said he should erase it from his own computer, he recalled.”

Eventually he filed a FOIA request with the agency. Its rejection said that "the disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." “Exactly how a set of coordinates would invade a dead person's privacy was not made clear. Police routinely release the names of fatal-accident victims,” the newspaper noted.

“The FARS database already contains the highway number and mileage marker of fatal accidents, but having the exact Earth coordinates allows the data to be analyzed more systematically,” it also noted. It added that the issue is similar to the battle presently going on over the NHTSA’s refusal to release some vehicle safety information it obtains under the TREAD Act. (For earlier coverage, see the August, 2006 Current Development Archive.)

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A leading consumer group, Public Citizen, has told Congress that the Bush Administration’s DOT budget submission is “inadequate, shortchanging consumers by cutting funding for vehicle safety and threatening fuel economy.”

The group said, “The fuel economy program continues to be grossly underfunded at about $1.2 trillion a year… the Bush administration proposals also cut back on safety. The DOT budget requests $1.2 million less in funding for the safety performance rulemaking budget, taking it from $14 million to just $12.8 million for 2008. These funds pay for a variety of programs, including the federal motor vehicle safety standard rulemakings, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) and fuel economy…

“The cuts in the safety budget would undermine safety standards and consumers' right to know about safety performance… It is not possible for NHTSA to effectively conduct this [NCAP] research on a diminished budget. Furthermore, the budget also covers motor vehicle safety standard rulemakings, including the requirement for NHTSA to issue important new and updated crashworthiness safety standards included in the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users, which cannot be completed in any effective way with this insufficient budget. Given that there were 10,800 rollover fatalities in 2005, rulemakings regarding occupant protection in rollover crashes are vitally important for improving highway safety. The new law commands these rulemakings, but this budget undercuts the intent of the law.”

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Results from IIHS ratings impact tests have been favorable for the Ford Fusion midsize car and Ford Edge midsize SUV. They earned “the highest rating of good in front and side crash tests,” the insurance research group said. “The Edge also earns a good rating for rear crash protection, so it wins the Institute's 2007 top safety pick award” citing cars and SUVs in each class that afford the best overall crash protection. “The similar Lincoln MKX, a midsize luxury SUV, also wins top safety pick,” it said.

To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK, vehicles must earn the highest rating of good in all three Institute tests (front, side, and rear) and be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC). This is a standard feature on both the Edge and the MKX. Award criteria were tightened for 2007 to include ESC because research shows it can prevent many single-vehicle crashes and rollovers.

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Effective Sept. 1, 2009, van sliding doors will be required by NHTSAto have two latches instead of one, as at present, the Detroit News reported. “NHTSA has been concerned about doors opening during crashes as it focuses on preventing the ejection of unbelted motorists. More than 54,000 people are ejected each year from vehicles, and 15 percent are ejected through doors. Between 1995 and 2003, 20 people died and 30 were injured annually after sliding doors opened during accidents,” the paper said.

“The new requirement will save seven lives annually and four injuries will be reduced in severity as a result of remaining inside the vehicle, NHTSA estimates. Most at risk are children, it said. “Children sit in the back of vehicles in disproportionately high numbers," NHTSA's rule said. The final rule, NHTSA said, "essentially requires sliding doors to have two latches."

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An ABC news commentary on the Bush budget, “Who's Counting: How Iraq Trillion Could Have Been Spent,” offered these remarks in its in-depth analysis of budget figures:

“The price tag for the Iraq War is now estimated at $700 billion in direct costs and perhaps twice that much when indirect expenditures are included… One last and rather tiny governmental monetary unit functions almost as spare change and has the ungainly acronym NHTSA. It stands for the annual budget of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which is approximately $670 million, or about two-thirds of $1 billion. The Iraq War has cost about 1,500 NHTSA's, several of which could probably have reduced the more than 40,000 Americans killed annually on our roads.”

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According to USA Today story, “Most of the U.S. states that have reported significant drops in traffic fatalities for last year increased enforcement of motor vehicle laws. In 16 states, fatalities were down at least 5 percent, while in nine states the increase was at least that big, USA Today reported.

The newspaper analyzed data submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Illinois, the number of fatalities has dropped every year since the state passed a law in 2003 that allows police to make stops for failing to wear a seat belt. Last year, there were fewer than 1,300 deaths, the lowest number since 1924. In Ohio, fatalities dropped 6.6 percent between 2005 and 2006, making 2006 the safest year ever. State Police Lt. Tony Bradshaw said that troopers have been targeting high accident areas.”

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The Kansas City Star, under the headline “Motorcycle deaths surge in Missouri and Kansas", reports that, “Even as overall highway fatalities decline in Missouri, the state is approaching a record number of motorcycle deaths… the final (2006) number in Missouri is expected to be the most in 30 years, beating the previous high of 89 motorcycle deaths set in 2003. Kansas, too, saw a big increase of motorcycle deaths last year. Through October, the state had 59 fatalities, more than any year back to 1995.

“Traffic safety advocates call it a huge problem that the entire country faces as motorcycle ownership surges,” the Star said in its detailed report. Lack of helmet use by some cyclists appears to be part of the problem, and use of “novelty” helmets reportedly is another. A Missouri task force assigned to look at the problem “wants to crack down on riders who wear so-called novelty helmets that look flashy but might not protect your head,” the paper said. It added: “Many say the growing number of deaths seems to correspond with the increasing popularity of motorcycles, spurred by baby boomers getting back on the bike. About 147,000 motorcycles were registered in Kansas and Missouri in 2005, up about a third since 2000. At the same time, motorcycle deaths in the two states have climbed about 80 percent.

Meanwhile, Consumer Affairs reported that the DOT secretary wants to make safety helmets standard equipment for motorcyclists. She is “is calling on manufacturers to provide free or heavily discounted DOT-certified helmets or driver safety training with the purchase of every new motorcycle sold in the United States,” it said.

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Consumers Union has announced the naming of two experts to review its controversial – and eventually withdrawn – child restraint crash test program and results. (See Current Development Archives for January, 2007.) “The experts are Brian O'Neill, the former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI); and Dr. Kennerly H. Digges, the director of Vehicle Safety and Biomechanics at the Federal Highway Administration/ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) National Crash Analysis Center of George Washington University.

Meanwhile, NHTSA reportedly is moving forward to get a grip on child restraint use and design problems. According to the Detroit Free Press, the agency pledged at a recent child-restraint conference to reduce “the confusion surrounding child car seats, saying the current mélange of seat designs and markings in vehicles was leaving parents confused and children at risk.” (See Current Development Archive for December, 2006.)

According to the Detroit News in an article on the subject, new NHTSA regs on car seats for children are to be “issued by end of the year… NHTSA chief Nicole Nason told reporters her office planned to update the federal regulations governing auto safety seats and the system in automobiles for securing them without using safety belts. ‘It's not an easy solution," Nason said. "We want to make children as safe as possible, give parents the best information and make the technology available to protect children in vehicles.’”

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Damage to “your prized aluminum or alloy wheels” can result in unsuspected hazards, according to Los Angeles Times report that appears also in the Detroit News. The wheels are relatively prone to road damage leading to “less protection from the pounding of potholes, road debris and occasional curbs. Aluminum or alloy wheels are vulnerable and can carry a high cost to the unsuspecting car owner… At the most, a pounding from a pothole can bend the rim or chink off a few inches of the rim lip. (The lip is the surface of the wheel that forms a seal with the tire bead, keeping it airtight. It's a piece of metal that guarantees the safety of the entire vehicle.)”

NHTSA, the report notes, “has no standards or guidelines on the safety of repairing alloy wheels. As in so many other critical areas of car safety, the agency has not provided advice to consumers on any aftermarket products or issues… the matter is largely left to industry self-regulation and the decisions of companies about what they will repair or not.” It described an incident in which a wheel expert “was recently called in to investigate an alloy wheel failure after it had been repaired. Fortunately, the vehicle was parked in the driveway when the repaired section gave way and the alloy wheel crumbled apart. Had the vehicle been on the freeway, failure likely would have caused a sudden and drastic loss of vehicle control,” the expert said.

In an apparently unrelated story headlined “Demonic Concept,” Automotive News reported: “The Chrysler group will show the rear-wheel-drive Dodge Demon concept - which it describes as a compact, affordable ‘roadster with an attitude’ - at the Geneva auto show next month. The Demon features Dodge's signature cross-hair grille, 19-inch brushed aluminum wheels and long seat tracks that free up storage behind the seats.”

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NHTSA released the results of its 2007 new-car crash and rollover safety rating tests, in which 24 passenger vehicles for the 2007 model year “received five stars in front and side crash tests, the highest government rating under the agency’s New Car Assessment Program.”

The newly tested models earning five stars include a seven of four-door passenger vehicles: Dodge Caliber; Ford Five Hundred; Kia Optima; Mercury Montego; Subaru Legacy; Saturn Aura; and the Toyota Camry. In addition, 17 four-door SUV’s earned a five star crash test rating for all seating positions: Acura MDX; Acura RDX; Audi Q7; Dodge Nitro; Ford Freestyle; GMC Acadia; Honda CR-V; Honda Element; Hyundai Santa Fe; Infiniti FX35/45; Jeep Grand Cherokee; Kia Sorento; Kia Sportage; Mazda CX-7; Saturn Outlook; Subaru Outback; and the Toyota Highlander.

Thus far, the agency said, it has completed frontal, side, and rollover ratings for 63 of the 70 vehicles scheduled to be tested for the 2007 model year, representing approximately 79 percent of the 2007 model year fleet. “Of all newly tested vehicles, only the Mazda6 four-door, Pontiac Solstice convertible and its twin, the Saturn Sky Convertible, earned five stars for rollover resistance — but none of these models also attained five star crash test safety for all seating positions. Of the 24 earning five star crash test safety for front and side impact, none earned five stars for rollover resistance.”

The Detroit News, reporting on the NHTSA results, noted that although the ratings are frequently cited in automaker advertising, “the government's watchdog group [GAO] and others have said the ‘star system’ needs to be improved because most vehicles receive four or five stars under NHTSA's system. The grade inflation makes it more difficult for consumers to compare the safety value of similar vehicles.” (See related story in this issue.)

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A safety group in Massachusetts is urging adoption of criteria for judging the safety of used tires and wheels. A report originating in the Detroit News said of the group’s position, “The sale of used tires is largely unregulated, and each year, worn tires are the cause of countless accidents, many of them ending in fatalities, safety advocates say. Some used tires are repaired, repainted or patched before sale, making it difficult for consumers to gauge their safety.”

"Without self-policing and a more transparent business model, used tire sellers are courting disaster," Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, said. "Regulators should examine how to ensure consumers are getting safe tires." Kane said used tire sellers should "adopt meaningful tire inspections that combine visual reviews with internal exams."

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In a paper, “Motorcycle Helmet Laws, Libertarian Values, And Public Health,” published in the American Journal of Public, researchers reviewed the history and status of state laws requiring motorcycle helmet use in order to “characterize the tension between paternalism and libertarian values in the evolution of motorcycle helmet laws across the United States .” Noting the repeated failure of moves to enact effective federal legislation to insure that such laws are enacted, enforced and kept in effect even though they clearly serve the public interest, the authors concluded, “The challenge for public health is to expand on this base of justified paternalism and to forthrightly argue in the legislative arena that adults and adolescents need to be protected from their poor judgments about motorcycle helmet use.”

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A Boston Globe article reviews “new technologies that raise the bar on highway safety”. “…safety specialists recommend two new safety technologies as must buys: electronic stability control and air curtains. Electronic stability control applies brakes to individual wheels if the system senses the car is veering out of control. Air curtains are air bags -- sometimes called side curtain air bags -- that drop from the car ceiling to provide crucial head protection in deadly side-impact crashes. Studies have concluded that wider deployment of each can dramatically reduce accidents and/or fatalities. Both are standards in some models, but cost as much as $800 each when available as an option.”

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The Detroit News reports that Honda is recalling 43,335 Civic Hybrid sedans worldwide to repair an electrical defect that could stop the cars' engines. “Japan's No. 2 automaker plans to recall 7,219 of the vehicles sold domestically and another 38,116 sold overseas, mostly in the U.S.”

The paper also reports a recall involving 86,333 Dodge Ram pickups “to resolve front-end vibration that could lead to the failure of the front wheel bearing. The automaker said it would replace the front wheel hub and bearing units in the 2006 pickups.”

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According to a television investigative report at News 4 WOAI in San Antonio, “A design flaw in a popular brand of tires sold all across San Antonio and the country is being linked to hundreds of deadly accidents and injuries… Cooper Tires are sold under many different brand names and have been blamed in lawsuits for 218 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries. Many tire experts say that Cooper Tires would not have failed if they had a belt wedge along the shoulder to help prevent the tread from coming off while driving. The wedge only costs pennies, but Cooper is the only major tire maker that does not use it."

Cooper responded that "uses sophisticated engineering techniques that meet or exceed every applicable governmental standard. A wedge is simply one way, not the only way, to place rubber between the belts of a tire. Cooper uses many different mechanisms to reach the desired result; insuring there is an adequate amount of rubber between the belts at the belt edges."

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Bloomberg reports that Pontiac Grand Prix cars with supercharged V6 engines of the 1999-2002 model years are being investigated by NHTSA for engine fires that ignite after the car is turned off. Of the 21 consumer complaints, 16 involve fires that began five to 15 minutes after ``the vehicle was parked and the ignition switched off,'' the safety agency said. The agency estimated that 71,483 vehicles could be affected by the problem.

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Autoblog reports that Chevy Cobalts built between 2005 and 2006 that do not have the optional roof-mounted side impact airbags are being recalled. “Apparently Chevy (and presumably the NHTSA) discovered that there isn't sufficient padding to meet federal requirements in these vehicles, and unacceptable head injuries could result in a collision. Scary to think there's an acceptable amount of injury that would be tolerated, but anyway. As a fix, dealers will add ‘energy absorbing plastic’ to the headliner trim to help soften the blow should your head strike the headliner in a crash. The recall affects 98,000 Cobalts on the road.”

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Ford E550, Excursion, F-150, F250 Super Duty, F350 Super Duty, F450 Super Duty, F550 Super Duty; Lincoln Blackwood 2002-2003 Trucks (Thu, 01 Mar 2007) On certain trucks equipped with speed control, gasoline or natural gas engines, the speed control deactivation switch may overheat. Overheating could result in smoke or burn and an underhood fire.

Coachmen Capri Micro 2007 Travel Trailers (Wed, 28 Feb 2007) On certain travel trailers, the self taping screws that are used to secure the liquid propane (LP) bottle support tray to the trailer frame may fail. The support tray is mounted to the A-frame of the trailer and holds the LP bottles securely in place. Should these screws fail, the LP bottles could come loose, disengage from the trailer increasing the risk of a crash. If significant contact were to occur over a period of time, the LP tank or lines could be damaged and potentially leak LP gas, which could result in a fire.

Custom Campers HHII, LS, Snowbird SE; Nu Wa Champagne Edition, Discovery Series, Premier, Snowbird, Snowbird Legend, Snowbird SE, Snowbird SE102, Sut, Sut Travel Trailer 1997-2003 Recreational Vehicles (Wed, 21 Feb 2007) Certain recreational vehicles equipped with a two-door refrigerator, manufactured by the Dometic Corporation, may have a defect in the boiler tube. Pressurized coolant solution could be released into an area where an ignition source (gas flame) is present. Release of coolant under certain conditions could ignite and result in a fire.

Foretravel U270, U295, U320 1999-2005 Motor Homes (Wed, 21 Feb 2007) Certain motor homes equipped with a two-door refrigerator, manufactured by the Dometic Corporation, may have a defect in the boiler tube. Pressurized coolant solution could be released into an area where an ignition source (gas flame) is present. Release of coolant under certain conditions could ignite and result in a fire.

Delphi FG0049-11B1, FG0170-11B1, MU269, MU55 Fuel Pump Modules for Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Cavalier, Oldsmobile Achieva, Pontiac Grand AM and Sunfire 1996-1998 Vehicles (Wed, 21 Feb 2007) Certain Delphi aftermarket fuel pump modules / module reservoir assemblies (MRA) that were sold for use on the above listed vehicles. During production the MRA's vent and fuel return tubes were reversed. This condition can result in the vehicle not running correctly (idle rough and/or stall) due to an overly rich fuel blend or the vehicle's evaporative emission carbon canister may leak fuel. A stalled vehicle can increase the risk of a vehicle crash. A fuel leak can result in a fire.

GMC 2007 Acadia; Saturn 2007 Outlook Vehicles (Wed, 21 Feb 2007) On certain vehicles, the sensing and diagnostic module (SDM), which controls the function of front air bags, may not operate properly. As a result, the front air bags may fail to deploy in a frontal crash. Also, the air bag warning lamp on the instrument panel may fail to provide warning that the system is inoperative. In the event of a crash, this condition could increase the risk of injury to occupants in the front seat.

Bentley Arnage R, RL, T 2005-2006 Vehicles (Mon, 19 Feb 2007) On certain vehicles, the road wheel fixing bolts may be dimensionally incorrect. The potential exists for these bolts to loosen. This could lead to the road wheel becoming detached from the hub increasing the risk of a crash.

Goshen 2006 Euroshuttle, GCII, Navistar, Pacer, Pacer LTD Buses (Mon, 19 Feb 2007) Certain buses equipped with Ricon platform style wheelchair lifts fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard no. 403, 'platform lift systems for motor vehicles.' The inner barrier interlock switch system in the lift baseplate may not detect the presence of a passenger (either wheelchair or standee) on the barrier and can allow the platform to move down more than one inch below floor level when occupied. In the event this condition occurs during passenger operations, it may be possible for the wheelchair to tip backwards onto the platform if the user is backing onto the lift from inside the vehicle and has the small front wheels fully or partially on the inner barrier when the platform was lowered. A person standing could lose his or her balance if they were positioned fully or partly on the inner barrier when the platform was lowered. Either condition could cause personal injury.

National Van Econoline 2006-2007 Vans (Fri, 16 Feb 2007) Certain vans equipped with Ricon platform style wheelchair lifts fail to comply with the requirements Of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 403, "Platform lift systems for motor vehicles." The inner barrier interlock switch system in the lift baseplate may not detect the presence of a passenger (either wheelchair or standee) on the barrier and can allow the platform to move down more than one inch below floor level when occupied. In the event this condition occurs during passenger operations, it may be possible for the wheelchair to tip backwards onto the platform if the user is backing onto the lift from inside the vehicle and has the small front wheels fully or partially on the inner barrier when the platform was lowered. A person standing could lose his or her balance if they were positioned fully or partly on the inner barrier when the platform was lowered. Either condition could cause personal injury.

Britax Regent Classic Child Restraints (Fri, 16 Feb 2007) Certain Britax Regent Classic forward-facing only youth child restraints, model E9l3998, manufactured between December 18, 2006, and January 18, 2007. These seats were produced with an incorrect label sewn to the fabric cover which fails to conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213, Child restraint systems. In place of the "warning! Death or serious injury can occur" warning label, an airbag warning label was attached. The airbag warning label is not required for the Regent Classic restraint as it is a forward-facing only youth restraint system. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the number of children killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes and in aircraft.

Depo 335-1120L-AS Headlight Assemblies for GMC Envoy 2002-2006 Passenger Vehicles (Fri, 16 Feb 2007) Certain Maxzone headlight assemblies, Depo brand, P/No 335-1120l-AS, sold for use as aftermarket equipment for the above listed passenger vehicles. During production the lamp housing shape deformed distorting the assembly angle of the reflector and influenced the aiming position. These headlamps fail to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. Decreased lighting visibility may result in a vehicle crash.

Volkswagen Golf, GTI 1999 - 2006, Jetta 2001 -2005, New Beetle 2001 - 2007, R32 2004 Vehicles (Thu, 15 Feb 2007) On certain passenger, wagon, and convertible vehicles equipped with or without cruise control, a brake light switch may malfunction if it was installed incorrectly. The brake lights could become inoperative, or remain on. Failure to provide the proper signal when braking could lead to a crash without warning.

Skyline Aljo, Celebrity, Century, Layton, Nomad, Seaview, Weekender 1977-2004 Truck Campers, Fifth Wheel and Travel Trailers (Thu, 15 Feb 2007) Certain truck campers, fifth wheel and travel trailers equipped with a two-door refrigerator, manufactured by the Dometic Corporation, may have a defect in the boiler tube. Pressurized coolant solution could be released into an area where an ignition source (gas flame) is present. Release of coolant under certain conditions could ignite and result in a fire.

Newmar All Star, American Star, American Star Light, Dutch Star, Kountry Aire, Kountry Star, London Aire, Mountain Aire, Scottsdale 1997-2003 Motor Homes, Fifth Wheel Trailers (Thu, 15 Feb 2007) Certain class A and diesel pusher motor homes and fifth wheel trailers equipped with a two-door refrigerator, manufactured by the Dometic Corporation, may have a defect in the boiler tube. Pressurized coolant solution could be released into an area where an ignition source (gas flame) is present. Release of coolant under certain conditions could ignite and result in a fire.

KTM 950 Adventure, Adventure S, Superenduro, Supermoto 2004-2006 Motorcycles (Thu, 15 Feb 2007) On certain 950 motorcycles, the rear brake may feel spongy or soft when applying the brake. This could lead to improper rear braking. Improper rear braking could result in a crash.

Bigfoot B-21 FB 2003-2007 Travel Trailers (Thu, 15 Feb 2007) On certain travel trailers, the hitch tongue load may be insufficient. When the trailer is towed in a dry condition, i.e., no water, liquid propane gas, battery, or cargo, in an empty state, the trailer may begin to sway. This may occur without warning and could lead to the loss of control of the tow vehicle/trailer combination, increasing the risk of a crash.

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January 29, 2007


Consumer Reports has made national headlines, many of them unwanted, by releasing a report claiming defective, hazardous crash-test failures by leading child restraint systems. CU has since sent out a retraction and a letter of apology to its members after having been roundly criticized by NHTSA and manufacturers for testing faults, and the media has been criticized in some quarters for giving allegedly misguided attention to the story.

However, CU’s report also suggested that European crash-test standards for child restraints are tougher and better than U.S. standards – an issue that appears to have validity and hopefully will be addressed by NHTSA and manufacturers in the future.

Here are links to the major developments in the CU child restraint test episode:

CU’s original release, with the headline, “Safety Alert: What If This Were Your Child: Most Infant Car Seats Fail Our New Front- and Side-Crash Tests,” accompanied by alarming photos and video of child seats misperforming in impact tests. The Evenflo Discovery seat was criticized in the first paragraph of the release, which said, “You’d think that in a car crash, infants in their cozy car seats would be the most protected passengers of all. But you’d be wrong, our tests reveal… When we crash-tested infant car seats at the higher speeds vehicles routinely withstand, most failed disastrously. The car seats twisted violently or flew off their bases, in one case hurling a test dummy 30 feet across the lab.”

Note: CU may have removed this page from its website. If so, a Google search may find other copies of the original release.

● The widely-carried AP story on the CU test-result claims, “Most Infant Seats Flunk Crash Test”.

● A report from ConsumerAffairs focusing on parents whose children were harmed in alleged failures of car seats involved in the CU tests. Headline: “Infant Fatalities Illustrate Car Seats' Shortcomings: U.S. Seats Built to Lower Standard than European Seats.” The report pointed out that, “Many infant seats sold in Europe undergo more rigorous testing than do models sold in the U.S. Indeed, when CR crash-tested an infant seat purchased in England, the Britax Cosy Tot, it was the best in the tests. An infant seat sold in the U.S. by the same manufacturer, the Companion, failed CU's tests.”

Evenflo’s response, expressing “deep concern” that CU had published its test results without consulting with child seat manufacturers, and stating, “…the magazine's test conditions and protocols appear to conflict with the collective experience of car seat manufacturers, NHTSA and the scientific community. Rigorous tests conducted by NHTSA and Evenflo have consistently shown that both the Evenflo Discovery® and Evenflo Embrace(TM) exceed government standards.”

● A statement by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association on behalf of “leading manufacturers of infant child restraints in the United States,”: “The scientific validity of Consumer Reports' conclusions is highly questionable… there is no evidence that infant child restraints would protect children better in real world crashes if they were designed to meet a crash test conducted at higher speed. Moreover, design changes needed to meet a higher crash speed may result in designs that are less effective in lower speed collisions, or harder to install properly, leading to decreased safety in the vast majority of crashes. The fact remains that child restraints are highly effective at reducing death and serious injury in the real world. To the extent that the Consumer Reports story undermines confidence in use of these restraints it does the public a disservice.

● A statement by DaimlerChrysler defending and urging the use of child safety seats.

● Two releases from Consumers Union, one withdrawing the report and the other, apologizing for it.

● A release from the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, an industry group, criticizing CU for not sharing its test details with other organizations, and stressed that child restraints provide improved safety for youngsters.

● Criticism of the media because, it was alleged by the Business & Media Institute, networks downplayed their own role in promoting “panic” over the CU test results. “While ABC, NBC, and CBS all covered the retraction on their January 19 morning news programs, they downplayed or ignored the role they had played in hyping the story,” it added. Consumer Reports was also chided for failing to “report the name of the testing firm” in its release (it was Calspan), and the media was chided for failing to “question the methodology of the study and the reputation of the testing firm that conducted it.”

● A NHTSA statement welcoming CU’s retraction and stating that the agency’s initial review of the CU testing procedures “showed a significant error in the manner in which it conducted and reported on its side-impact tests. The organization’s data show its side-impact tests were actually conducted under conditions that would represent being struck in excess of 70 mph, twice as fast as the group claimed. When NHTSA tested the same child seats in conditions representing the 38.5 mph conditions claimed by Consumer Reports, the seats stayed in their bases as they should, instead of failing dramatically.”

● In the New York Times, an op-ed by the head of Public Citizen calling the debacle “a whopper of a mistake that jeopardizes [CU’s] well-earned credibility,” but also criticizing NHTSA: “…the safety administration should devote its resources and energies not just to pointing out the grave mistakes of others, but to fulfilling its own mandate” to set tougher standards for child restraints and other vehicle safety components.

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According to an announcement by NHTSA, the agency may adopt tougher New Car Assessment Program tests as a basis for determining the consumer information ratings it gives to cars for crashworthiness performance. The proposal “could include, for the first time, ratings for crash avoidance technologies like electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems.” The proposal envisions making the requirements for front, side and rollover tests tougher;
including front crash tests to address upper leg injuries; adding a new side impact test, and adding a letter rating system (A,B,C) for advanced safety technologies not included as standard equipment on cars and trucks.

The plan was attacked by Public Citizen for its omission of four safety benchmarks: “A rollover crashworthiness test evaluating roof crush and ejection was
still not included in determining the rollover safety rating. Compatibility - the disparity in size between passenger cars and light trucks - was not considered. Offset frontal crashes will also not be tested, despite the fact that the European Union conducts them. Finally, pedestrian impact tests, which are done in the EU, Japan and Australia, were not considered or addressed.”

Reporting on the proposal, the Detroit News recalled that in April 2005, GAO issued a report that said the testing program needs to be reformed, noting that nearly all vehicles get high government crash ratings on frontal, rollover and side-impact tests. "Scores have increased to the point where there is little difference in vehicle ratings," the report noted. "As a result, the program provides little incentive for manufacturers to improve safety and consumers can see few differences among new vehicles."

IIHS president Adrian Lund told the newspaper “it's time for the agency to reform tests. They need to do something that will accelerate vehicle design improvements. If everyone gets four or five stars, that's not useful." IIHS “also is considering revising its frontal-crash test to take into account head-on crashes into telephone poles and narrow trees. Lund said NHTSA should also consider updating its frontal-crash test,” the paper said.

“While auto executives welcomed the proposals, safety advocates said they would have little effect on the 43,000 deaths on roads annually, a statistic that has changed little despite years of safety efforts,” it said. Meanwhile, the paper ran an editorial criticizing the “non-productive” proposal as being too tough. “fundamental and wholesale changes place undue burdens on the automakers and are unfair. Adding a new side impact test, for example, will immediately make it appear that many vehicles aren't safe, which isn't true. Cars and trucks are safer today than ever before.”

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has rated the states and D.C. for progress in adopting “15 proven-effective laws to significantly reduce death and injury on the nation's roads” and found all of them lagging in one way or another. The group’s study found that “no state has adopted all 15 traffic safety measures, which cover five major areas of safety behavior: seat belt use, motorcycle helmet use, child booster seat use, teen driving, and impaired driving. An analysis of the extent to which the 50 states and D.C. adopted these 15 laws found nearly 300 gaps nationwide at the start of 2006, yet only 22 of these state traffic safety loopholes were closed by the end of the year.”

The "2007 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws" report divided the 15 model laws into four issue categories: Occupant Protection (2 laws) - A primary enforcement seat belt law and an all-rider motorcycle helmet law; Child Passenger Safety (1 law) - A child booster seat law from ages 4 to 8; Optimal Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program (5 laws) - A six-month "holding period" during the learner's permit phase, restricted cell phone use and other conditions, and Impaired Driving (7 laws) - Repeat offender penalties, open container ban, and other provisions.

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Researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have reported that parents with a high school education or less are among the least likely to use appropriate child restraints, “suggesting that current public education
campaigns aimed at increasing car seat use may need to be better tailored to these families at highest risk for crash injury.” Their study appears in the Traffic Injury Prevention journal and is based on information collected from parents involved in crashes reported to State Farm Insurance Companies(R) through the ongoing Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) research initiative.

"What this research shows us is that broad educational campaigns to improve child passenger safety are no longer sufficient. Many parents who want to do the best for their children still do not understand the
importance of booster seats in protecting their children," said Flaura Winston, M.D., Ph.D., who led the study and is Principal Investigator of PCPS. "In order to protect all children riding in cars, we need to develop more effective educational campaigns that provide a compelling and clear safety message which resonates with families who stand to benefit the most."

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The Center for Auto Safety, concerned about driver distraction as a cause of crashes, has petitioned NHTSA to “take action to restrict the availability of two-way communication features through in-vehicle telematic systems while a vehicle is in motion. The purpose of this petition is to make the driving environment safer by reducing
the availability of devices that have been proven to be traffic hazards.”

Summarizing the petition, a Washington Post article said, “The systems, which include OnStar from General Motors, and Sync, which Ford introduced earlier this month, allow drivers to have wireless access to security features, navigational aids -- and increasingly a wide array of entertainment. This means they don't have to bring their own phones or music players into the car…The concern over tech gear sets up a clash between automakers who have been steadily adding electronic features and those who point to research showing the equipment is unsafe.

“No federal rules govern the use of cellphones or other personal wireless devices in vehicles. New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and the District allow only hands-free cellphone use while driving, while 11 states ban school bus drivers from using wireless phones, and eight ban teenage drivers from doing so.

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In a detailed article accompanied by a company-by-company chart of recall activity. the Detroit Free Press has reported that automakers “slashed the number of cars and trucks recalled in the United States in 2006 by 38%, as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. made good on pledges to reduce safety-related defects in their vehicles. A Free Press analysis of federal data suggests that automakers have become more adept at catching problems earlier in production, before they affect a large number of customers. But their systems are far from perfect: Government investigations sparked many of the largest recalls last year.”

The Free Press analysis found that the U.S. auto industry overall recalled 10.6 million vehicles in 2006, a decrease of 6.5 million vehicles from a year earlier and a third of the total from 2004. The number of recalls issued by automakers fell to 143, from 163 in 2005. “While most major automakers had fewer recalls, a few saw their defects worsen, including Chrysler, Nissan Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG.

“In previous years, industry recalls fluctuated wildly as automakers, safety regulators and owners grappled with problems that often affected millions of vehicles built over several years. But as automakers have made quality control a top priority, testing and early reports of problems have limited the scope of most recalls.”

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The American Association for Justice, formerly ATLA, has told NHTSA in a docket submission that its proposed rules shielding auto companies from release of some vehicle safety information they transmit to the agency “endangers consumer safety and restricts the rights of consumers to educate themselves on the safety of future car purchases.” These “unwarranted rule changes by the federal agency charged with ensuring the public's safety allow the automobile industry to hide information about the safety of their vehicles and ultimately evade responsibility for negligence," it said, and “violate both the Freedom of Information Act and its subsequent common law interpretations.”

“Specifically, the new rules decrease public access to records (including documents that previously had been readily available to the public) and foster administrative secrecy for the benefit of the auto industry.” Under the newly proposed rules, consumer complaints and individual companies' safety data would be classified as "trade secrets" -- and thus be made unavailable to the public.

The AAJ filing with NHTSA is the latest development in an ongoing dispute over the agency’s proposed rules limiting release of safety information from the companies. See a recent analysis of the rule proposal in the San Francisco Chronicle. See the November archives for an earlier story, or search all archives for “secrecy” or “Public Citizen,” the organization leading the opposition to NHTSA’s rules change.

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