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February 25, 2006


Safety advocates have long been urging NHTSA to require car makers to post essential safety information on their new cars, but it took an act of Congress, called SAFETEA-LU and signed into law last August, to make it happen. (See February 3, 2006 “Current Development” posting, “NHTSA Proposing Safety-Info Labels For New Cars.”)

NHTSA’s proposed safety-info requirement, which would require labels with crash-test “star” ratings on new cars, is generally being welcomed, the Washington Post reports,
but “most safety advocates want more meaningful stars. They want some NHTSA tests to be tweaked or changed to make them more demanding and representative of what happens in an accident.”

For example, the Post article says, “many models easily pass NHTSA's frontal test, which involves crashing a vehicle into a rigid barrier at 35 miles per hour. Almost 95 percent of 2005 models passed that test with at least four stars for the driver seating position, which means the chance of injury is 20 percent or less.” This is “grade inflation," according to the Center for Auto Safety: "NHTSA should make the tests more stringent to separate the winners from the losers."

Posted by MVHAP at 04:53 PM


Nicole Nason, DOT’s chief lobbyist and the new appointee for NHTSA administrator, was considered virtually certain to get the top auto safety regulatory job after a Feb. 8 Senate committee hearing on her nomination by the White House. Committee members from both sides of the aisle support the nomination and her approval by the Senate is virtually guaranteed. But there’s concern among some safety advocates that Nason is short on qualifications and, in addition, has a track record of opposing the vehicle safety initiatives she must enforce at NHTSA.

They stress that “most previous NHTSA chiefs had extensive experience in public health, public safety or transportation policy…such a background is important because the agency is about to write new rules in key areas such as side-impact and vehicle-rollover standards and power-window safety, all mandated by last year's transportation bill, according to a Knight-Ridder report.

“Nason's experience advocating the administration's transportation priorities on Capitol Hill has generated much of the opposition to her nomination. She was a senior member of the administration lobbying team opposing deadlines for auto safety provisions in last year's highway bill,” reported ConsumerAffairs.com. Separately, Reuters noted that “Nason's lead credential is advocating the administration's transportation priorities on Capitol Hill. She was instrumental in making known the administration's opposition to deadlines for auto safety provisions in last year's highway bill.”

Posted by MVHAP at 04:48 PM


The Associated Press reports that NHTSA is investigating incidents of fires starting underneath the driver's seat of some models of the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle. “The inquiry involves nearly 16,000 Durango SUVs from the 2001-2003 model years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received complaints of five vehicle fires starting underneath the driver's seat,” three of which involved parked vehicles with ignitions off.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:46 PM


Two Los Angeles Times investigative reporters have taken a close look at how the Bush administration has “advanced President Bush's repeated pledge to rein in what he calls junk lawsuits” by embedding tort-reform “protections for businesses in regulatory changes.” In an extensively documented report, they conclude that “through arcane regulatory actions and legal opinions, the Bush administration is providing industry with an unprecedented degree of protection at the expense of an individual's right to sue and a state's right to regulate.”

Among many other examples, they cite current NHTSA proposals to “upgrade” roof crush standards while eliminating court suits against defective SUV roofs. (See Current Developments archives for December, January.) They also quote an Administration spokesman’s defense of the tactic: "'Under the Constitution, federal laws take priority over inconsistent state laws,’ said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget. ‘Decisions about ... whether particular rules should pre-empt state laws are made agency by agency and rule by rule.’”

“The pre-emption initiatives represent a separate approach to the administration's successful legislative push that restricted class-action lawsuits and banned certain claims against industries including gun makers and vaccine producers,” the report concludes.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:41 PM


A California research group has petitioned NHTSA to open an investigation into possible non-compliance by Ford Explorer and Mountaineer SUVs with the agency’s roof crush standard, which influences injuries in rollovers.

According to Safety Analysis & Forensic Engineering (SAFE), “there are potentially hundreds or even thousands of Explorers and Mountaineers in the 1997-2001 vintages that fail FMVSS 216, and thus violate federal law.” Based on an analysis of internal Ford engineering communiqués, the group concluded that an early design change in the vehicles’ door structures may have accounted for the possible non-compliance. “Only with physical testing can it be confirmed or denied whether the Explorer meets the federal standard for roof crush resistance,” SAFE told NHTSA. Ford has urged NHTSA to deny the petition.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:38 PM


A Waco, Texas jury has found against a bus manufacturer for failing to provide seat belts in a vehicle involved in a crash on Valentine’s Day 2003. Seven people died in the crash, including five elderly passengers, four of whom were ejected, according to a Dallas News article. The company argued that it should not be liable because NHTSA does not require seat belts in buses.

The Waco jury ordered the bus's manufacturer, Motor Coach Industries Inc., to pay $17.5 million in damages to 19 injured passengers and family members of the deceased. “Whether or not the verdict stands, it has stunned the American bus industry, which has relied on federal regulations to defeat previous lawsuits that focused on the absence of seat belts,” the report said, adding:

A spokesman for NHTSA, Rae Tyson, said the agency is aware of the Waco jury verdict but has no plans to alter its position on safety belts in commercial buses. "Given the overall safety record of motor coaches and school buses, I think the approach has generally worked," Mr. Tyson said. But, he added, there is nothing to prevent bus makers from acting voluntarily.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates fatal bus accidents, has pushed NHTSA to research or require installation of safety belts for almost 40 years. "It’s been proven in the transportation industry repeatedly that the simplest, least expensive and most effective safety device is a seat belt," said Jim Hall, chairman of the safety board from 1993 to 2001.

Hall blamed the lack of responsiveness on the bus industry's political influence and on an overall lack of attention paid to bus accidents, according to the article.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:34 PM


The National Law Journal has reported that the total amount awarded by juries last year in the nation's largest cases declined for the third consecutive year. Based on analysis of the VerdictSearch(R) Top 100, a ranking of the largest jury verdicts in 2005, the NLJ reveals that juries awarded just $8.2 billion in compensatory and punitive damages in these cases last year, the lowest total since the newspaper began tracking these verdicts in 2001 and a decline of 28 percent from last year's total.

“Punitive damages also continued to decline significantly, in part due to caps that have now been implemented in more than half of the nation's states… Punitive awards continued to decrease at a much faster rate than compensatory awards--which, by comparison, have remained relatively constant.”

The types of cases that made the Top 100 Verdicts of 2005 varied greatly. Thirteen trials involved motor vehicle cases, 11 involved medical malpractice, nine were breach of contract actions and seven were intellectual property cases.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:31 PM


The current issue of IIHS’s Status Report wrestles with two important issues. Addressing government proposals for boosting fuel economy of SUVs, vans, and pickups, it says the proposals would “greatly reduce contradiction with safety” which occurs when vehicles downsized to meet fuel consumption control needs become less safe because of their smaller size. The newsletter also takes on a recent study by University of Georgia researchers claiming to that airbags are not reducing car crash deaths. IIHS researchers find the study to be grievously flawed.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:29 PM


Ford Motor Co.'s strategy of going to trial to fight vehicle-accident lawsuits cost the automaker more than $255 million in verdicts it lost last year, according to Bloomberg News.

Ford “lost seven verdicts of $20 million or more last year in lawsuits claiming defects linked to rollovers and other accidents, compared with one award against the rest of the industry,” it said. Ford’s tactic of refusing to offer reasonable settlements in injury lawsuits is well known among plaintiff’s attorneys.

“The verdicts also may hurt Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford's effort to improve its safety image and regain market share,” Bloomberg quoted analysts as saying. But a Ford spokesman told the news agency that taking the cases to trial is cost-effective because Ford wins 70 percent to 80 percent of them "We know from 13 years of experience that being ready, willing and able to defend our products and people ... is the most effective way to control litigation costs."

Posted by MVHAP at 03:54 PM


In a new report, “Critical SUVs and Pickup Trucks Safety Concerns,” Consumer Reports discuss “key considerations” for car buyers that are available from various crash test results. The report notes that, “Safety is a key aspect of any vehicle buying decision, but it's not very easy to assess on your own. Some buyers believe they need a large vehicle, such as an SUV or pickup, to protect them in the event of an accident. Other buyers worry about the higher incidents of rollover accidents involving pickup trucks and large truck-based SUVs.” It enumerates “factors to consider when weighing the overall safety of a vehicle…, the various issues you should consider and where to go to find additional information.”

Posted by MVHAP at 03:52 PM


National statistics showing less than one out of every five kids between the ages of four and eight is riding in a car booster seat are a sign of "failure" and must be addressed immediately, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said today during a visit to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Over the past two years, Mineta said, less than 20 percent of kids who should be in booster seats are actually in them when they are riding in cars.

He used the occasion to announce a new federal initiative that will provide $25 million over the next four years to states that pass and enforce new or tougher booster seat laws. He said 34 states and the District of Columbia already have booster seat laws, but took time to call the names of the 16 states that don’t have such protections on the books.

Posted by MVHAP at 03:49 PM


On May 1, 2003 at about 2:00 in the morning, an off-duty police officer driving a Mercedes CLK320 south on U.S. Route 1 through Linden, N.J. lost control of his vehicle, mounted and crossed a six-inch-high raised curb, and entered the northbound lanes where he collided with a Ford Taurus occupied by a driver and four passengers. All five occupants in the Taurus and the Mercedes driver were killed in the crash.

In a series of reports and recommendations the National Transportation Safety Board has found that the crash resulted from the Mercedes driver’s high travel speed and high blood alcohol concentration, and that the injuries were caused or aggravated by the lack of an adequate media barrier separating opposing lanes of traffic. It has urged the state of New Jersey, the American Association of State Highway Officials, and the Federal Highway Administration to take remedial action to prevent crashes and severe injuries under similar circumstances.

Posted by MVHAP at 03:44 PM


“Safety” continues to attract Madison Avenue as a new-car marketing device. Advertising Age reports that Subaru of America, “in a quest to broaden its reach, is lifting a page out of Volvo's playbook to advertise its all-wheel drive models for 2006.” In a national TV ad campaign it will “tout safety awards the carmaker has won from independent third parties. The focus of the campaign will be on active and passive safety, a hallmark of Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo. Subaru inked a one-year deal with singer Sheryl Crow to use her song ‘Every Day Is a Winding Road’ in all its TV and radio ads.” Ms. Crow’s ex-boyfriend, Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong, had appeared in Subaru ads from 2003 until last year, the magazine said.

Posted by MVHAP at 03:34 PM


NOTE: Clicking on product name at start of item will connect to the NHTSA recall file.

Chevrolet 2006 Uplander Cargo Vans (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) Certain cargo vans fail to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards No. 110, "Tire Selection and Rims" and No. 120, "Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles Other Than Passenger Cars." These cargo vans were shipped without a tire and loading information label because they were incorrectly designated as incomplete vehicles. Without the proper labels, owners may be unaware of the correct tire size and may overload these vehicles.

Braun 2005-2006 Entervan Minivans (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) On certain minivans (Buik Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, and Pontiac Montana SV6) built on platforms by Braun, a fuel hose can rupture allowing fuel to be pumped freely from the fuel tank and into the area underneath the driver's seating position. This can cause unexpected vehicle deceleration or, in the presence of an ignition source, a fire.

Nissan 2006 Altima and Maxima Passenger Vehicles (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) On certain vehicles, the rear subframe may have been manufactured incorrectly, which could result in a crack in a bracket which holds part of the rear suspension. If the bracket is cracked, the stability of the vehicle may be affected under severe driving conditions. This could lead to a loss of control of the vehicle which could result in a crash.

DaimlerChrysler Model Year 2006 Jeep Liberty two-wheel drive sport utility vehicles equipped with 3.7 liter engines (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) The left oxygen sensor wiring harness may contact the exhaust pipe. Damage to the wiring harness could result in an underbody fire. Dealers will install a tie wrap to secure the excess length of the harness and inspect the oxygen sensor wiring harness for damage. If the harness has been damaged, it will be replaced. The recall is expected to begin during February 2006.

DaimlerChrysler Model Year 2006 Jeep Commander sport utility vehicles (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) The integrated retractor bracket edge on the third row seat may contact the seat belt during certain operating conditions causing damage to the belt webbing. In the event of a crash, the seat belt may not properly restrain the third row occupant which can increase the risk of injury. Dealers will inspect the belt webbing, and replace it if it has been cut or frayed and will add an injected molded cover to the retractor bracket on both third row seating positions to prevent further damage. The recall is expected to begin during February 2006.

DaimlerChrysler Model Year 2006 Dodge Dakota, Ram, and Mitsubishi Raider pickup trucks equipped with four-wheel antilock brake systems (ABS) (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) The ABS electronic control unit (ECU) may cause a loss of front to rear brake balance, and the rear brakes could lock up prematurely during certain braking conditions. This could result in a loss of vehicle control and cause a crash without warning. Dealers will replace the ABS ECU. The manufacturer has not yet provided an owner notification schedule for this campaign.

DaimlerChrysler Model Year 2006 Dodge Durango, Dakota, and Mitsubishi Raider pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) A static electricity spark between the operator and the vehicle can cause the turn signal, headlamps or windshield wipers to malfunction without warning. This can impair the driver's vision and result in a crash. Dealers will reprogram the cab compartment controller. The recall is expected to begin during February 2006.

Ford Model Year 2006 F-150 and Lincoln Mark LT pickup trucks (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) Fails to comply with either the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 105, 'Hydraulic And Electric Brake Systems' or FMVSS No. 135, 'Passenger Car Brake Systems.' These vehicles were built with a software error in the instrument cluster. This error could prevent the antilock brake system (ABS) warning light from illuminating if the ABS module ever became inoperative. Dealers will recalibrate the instrument cluster in these vehicles. The recall is expected to begin on February 15, 2006.

Mercedes-Benz Model Year 2000-2002 and 2004-2005 S-Class and CL-Class vehicles (Fri, 10 Feb 2006) The instrument cluster is experiencing electrical malfunctions. The instrument cluster contains gauges and indicators that must be illuminated whenever the vehicle is in operation. Due to inadequate illumination, the driver will be unable to read the gauges and indicators, such as the speedometer, which could increase the risk of a crash. Dealers will replace the instrument cluster modules. The manufacturer has not yet provided an owner notification schedule. This recall was the subject of a Preliminary Evaluation, PE05-062, conducted by the Office of Defects Investigation.

Volkswagen 2006 New Beetle Passenger Vehicles (Wed, 08 Feb 2006) Certain passenger vehicles equipped with 17-inch wheels and 2.5L engine fail to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 110, "Tire Selection and Rims." These vehicles were produced with a tire information label that lists an incorrect front tire size. The correct front tire size should be listed as 225/45 R17. The inflation pressure is correct. A misprinted label could lead to fitment of improperly sized replacement tires.

DaimlerChrysler Dodge Durango Sport Utility Vehicles (Tue, 07 Feb 2006) Certain sport utility vehicles fail to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, 'Occupant Crash Protection.' The wrong Occupant Restraint Controller (ORC) was installed on these vehicles. This can cause increased risk of injury to the driver under certain crash conditions.

Spartan K2, MG, Mountain Master 2006 Motor Homes (Mon, 06 Feb 2006) On certain motor homes, the brake lights become inoperable when the fuse is blown upon activation of the auxiliary brake. At the time, the auxiliary brake, the coolant level sensor, and auxiliary brake 'brake light activation' cease to function, and the 'check' engine light illuminates. A loss of brake lights could result in a crash.

Eagle Eyes Exterior Lighting (Mon, 06 Feb 2006) certain Eagle Eyes combination headlamps sold as replacement lamps for use on certain passenger vehicles. Some combination lamps are not equipped with amber side reflectors which fail to conform with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, "lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment". The absence of amber and red side reflex reflectors on these lamps decrease lighting visability and could cause a vehicle crash.

Holiday Rambler and McKenzie 2006 Next Level and Dune Chaser Trave; and Fifth Wheel Trailers (Fri, 03 Feb 2006) On certain travel and fifth wheel trailers equipped with refueling station pumps, the inlet fitting may not have the correct amount of thread sealer which may cause a fuel leak. If the fitting leaks, it could result in a fire or explosion causing bodily harm.

Cooper Zeon 2XS, Mastercraft Avenger ZHP Tires (Fri, 03 Feb 2006) Certain Cooper Zeon 2XS, sizes 235/35R19XL and 245/40R20, and Mastercraft Avenger ZHP, size 235/35R19XL, replacement light truck tires manufactured between April 25, 2004, and February 12, 2005. The subject tires may develop a scattered compression cracking condition in the innerliner stock. If this occurs, the tire can experience a reduction in its ability to retain proper inflation pressure. The loss of air pressure will cause the tires to run under-inflated. Driving on under-inflated tires may result in a vehicle crash.

Cooper Discoverer S/T, Dean Mud Terrain Radial SXT, Durango Radial XTR, Mastercraft Courser C/T, Mickey Thompson Dick Cepek Radial F-C II, TBC Corporation Mesa C/T, Transamerican Auto Parts Pro Comp Xtreme A/T, Treadways Corporation Tempra Trailcutter Radial RT Tires (Fri, 03 Feb 2006) Certain Cooper Dick Cepek Radial F-C II, Mesa C/T, Tempra Trailcutter Radial RT, Cooper Discoverer S/T, Durango Radial STR, Mastercraft Courser C/T, Dean Mud Terrain Radial SXT, size LT285/75R16, and Pro Comp Xtreme A/T, size 38.50X14.50R20lT, light truck tires manufactured between February 1, 2004, and January 21, 2006. These tires may not have adequate rubber coverage of the belt edge due to low tread gauge in the shoulder slot area of the tire. When this condition exists, it may eventually cause cracking at the base of the shoulder slots resulting in exposed belt wire which could lead to accelerated belt degradation, which could result in a separation. If the separation is not detected, continued use may cause the ply cords to break and the tubeless liner to tear and lose the inflating air. Loss of air might result in loss of steering control with vehicle crash the potential occurrence.

Cooper Dean Alpha 365 A/S, Mastercraft A/S IV, starfie Filte-Line IV, Trendsetter SE Tires (Fri, 03 Feb 2006) Certain Cooper Dean Alpha 365 A/S, Mastercraft A/S IV, starfie Filte-Line IV, and Trendsetter SE replacement passenger vehicle tires manufactured between November 21, 2004, and July 30, 2005. The affected tires may contain an unauthorized material in the upper sidewall region of the tire. The presence of this material may precipitate the formation of small, isolated voids which could result in early life loss of air pressure. The loss of air pressure will cause the tire to run under-inflated and may result in early failure. Tire failure could result in a vehicle crash.

Posted by MVHAP at 02:55 PM

February 03, 2006


A New York Times article reports on new findings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that “design changes that automakers initially resisted and then reluctantly adopted have sharply reduced the number of deaths among drivers of cars struck by a sport utility vehicle or pickup.”

According to the paper, the IIHS study, using data from the auto industry and the federal government, found that in side-impact collisions the number of deaths fell by nearly half when automakers lowered S.U.V.'s by as little as half an inch or equipped them with hollow impact-absorbing bars below the front and rear bumpers.

“The changes are intended to reduce the frequency of S.U.V.'s and pickups' sliding over cars' doorsills and bumpers and piercing deep into cars' passenger compartments. The changes also reduced by a fifth the risk that an S.U.V. would kill a belted car driver in a frontal collision. The same changes in pickups produced smaller but still significant safety gains. Not since the air bag has a safety standard been so effective in saving lives, experts say,” according to the Times article.

Posted by MVHAP at 11:11 AM

February 01, 2006


NHTSA has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking inviting public comment on a plan to require that safety rating information labels be provided on new cars at point of sale. The labeling requirement is required by law under SAFETEA-LU, an Act passed by Congress and signed into law in August.

The regulation must require new passenger vehicles to be labeled with NHTSA’s NCAP safety rating information beginning September 1, 2007. The information must include ‘‘a graphic depiction of the number of stars, or other applicable rating, that corresponds to each such assigned safety rating displayed in a clearly differentiated fashion indicating the maximum possible safety rating’’ for NHTSA’s front, side, and rollover testing, as well as ‘‘information describing the nature and meaning of the crash test data presented and a reference to additional vehicle safety resources, including http://www.safecar.gov.’’

Comments on the proposal are due by March 31. For a copy of the NPRM, go to THIS DOT SITE.

Posted by MVHAP at 05:42 PM


“Only 6 of the seat/head restraint combinations in 44 current model SUVs are rated good for protection against whiplash injuries in rear-end crashes. None of the seat/head restraint designs in 15 pickup truck models earns a good rating. Overall 4 out of 5 SUV and pickup seat/head restraints recently evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are rated marginal or poor for whiplash protection.”

This was IIHS’s conclusion after completing its first tests of SUVs and pickup trucks using a dummy that can measure forces on the neck during a simulated rear-end crash. It said that only the seats in the Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Subaru Forester, and Volvo XC90 models earned good overall ratings. Among those earning poor ratings are seat/head restraints in popular models such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, and Toyota 4Runner SUVs plus the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and some seats in Ford F-150 and Dodge Dakota pickups.

For details of the Institute’s findings, CLICK HERE.

Posted by MVHAP at 05:39 PM