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Vehicle Safety Information for Consumers

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Vehicle Safety Information for Consumers

Barry Felrice
Federal Register
July 26, 1994

[Federal Register: July 26, 1994]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
[Docket No. 94-63, Notice 1]

 
Vehicle Safety Information for Consumers

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of public meetings; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: This notice announces that NHTSA will be holding four public 
meetings to seek the public's guidance on the types of vehicle safety 
information that consumers desire, how best to generate that 
information, and how best to provide the information to consumers. 
Specifically, NHTSA is interested in public comments on the possibility 
of providing consumers with information on vehicle performance in a 
variety of crash modes, e.g., not only frontal, but also side impact 
and rollover. In addition, NHTSA seeks comments that would aid in 
determining which method or methods of providing this information would 
best serve the goal of educating prospective vehicle purchasers 
regarding the safety performance of their vehicles.

DATES: Public Meetings: Public meetings to hear public views and 
comments will be held in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 4, 1994, from 7:00 
p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; in San Diego, California, on August 18, 1994, from 
4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.; in Tampa, Florida, on September 8, 1994, from 
4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and in Washington, DC, on October 6, 1994, from 
9:30 a.m. to 12 noon.
    It is requested that those persons wishing to make oral 
presentations at any of the public meetings contact Vincent R. Quarles 
at the address or telephone number listed below within 7 days prior to 
the date of that public meeting.
    Written Comments: Written comments may be submitted to the agency 
and must be received on or before October 21, 1994.

ADDRESSES: Public Meetings: The public meetings will be held at the 
following locations:

    The August 4 meeting will be in the Iowa Supreme Court Chambers, 
Main Floor--North Wing of the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa.
    The August 18 meeting will be in the San Diego County Schools 
Headquarters, 6401 Linda Vista, Suite #800, San Diego, California.
    The September 8 meeting will be in the Auditorium for District 7 
of the Florida State Department of Transportation, 11201 N. McKinley 
Drive, Tampa, Florida.
    The October 6 meeting will be in the Federal Aviation 
Administration Auditorium, 800 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, 
DC.

    These facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities.
    Written Comments: All written comments must refer to the docket and 
notice numbers above and be submitted (preferably 10 copies) to the 
Docket Section, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Room 
5109, 400 Seventh Street SW., Washington, DC 20590. Docket hours are 
from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Vincent R. Quarles, Office of Market Incentives, National Highway 
Traffic Safety Administration, Room 5313, 400 Seventh Street, SW., 
Washington, DC 20590, 202-366-4805.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

In Brief

    NHTSA will hold a series of informal public meetings. The meetings 
will be focused on seeking answers to the following four questions:
     What kind of safety information is useful to you when 
purchasing a car or truck?
     How can the government provide this information more 
effectively to you? (Brochures? Toll-free phone numbers? Personal 
computer bulletin boards? Public Service announcements? Other means?)
     In what formats, media, locations, and languages would you 
like to receive auto safety information?
     How could this information be presented so that it is 
easily understood by consumers?
    NHTSA will use the answers to these questions to decide whether we 
need to refine the information this agency makes available to consumers 
and how the agency makes that information available.

Background

    NHTSA is the agency in the Federal government that is responsible 
for improving motor vehicle safety. The agency believes that one means 
of improving motor vehicle safety is to ensure that purchasers of new 
vehicles have relevant safety information.
    In recent years, there has been increased public interest in motor 
vehicle safety. Increased safety belt usage, reduced levels of alcohol-
impaired driving, and attention to vehicle safety attributes, such as 
air bags and antilock brakes, are evidence of this trend.
    Several recent studies have reaffirmed increasing consumer concern 
for safety and the desire to have additional information on new 
vehicles. In a December 1993 joint report, the American Association of 
Retired Persons and the Consumer Federation of America reported on a 
survey to determine the extent of consumer interest in receiving 
independent information about selected products before making a 
purchase. The survey measured interest in receiving information on 27 
products or services, ranging from long distance phone service to the 
purchase of a home. Of those indicating great interest in receiving 
information, more desired information on new cars (83 percent) than any 
other product. The survey also indicated a need to target the 
dissemination of information to specific audiences, as women desired 
more information than men, Blacks more than Hispanics or Whites, those 
with less education more than those with a higher education, and, 
particularly for new cars, young adults more than any other age group.
    In a survey conducted for Prevention magazine in November 1993, 
safety was reported as the most important attribute that consumers 
value when buying a new car, but they are often confused about vehicle 
safety. For example, many consumers believe incorrectly that air bags 
are likely to inflate accidentally or trap a person in a vehicle and 
that the highways are becoming less safe.
    Both of the above studies confirm strong consumer demand for 
additional information to consumers about new vehicle safety.

Statutory Authority

    NHTSA has extensive statutory authority under the National Traffic 
and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Vehicle Safety Act) and Motor Vehicle 
Information and Cost Savings Act (Cost Savings Act) regarding the 
provision of vehicle safety performance information to consumers. This 
authority can be used to require motor vehicle manufacturers to provide 
consumers with safety performance information that has been developed 
through testing by either the agency or by the manufacturers 
themselves.
    The Vehicle Safety Act, which was enacted in 1966, authorizes NHTSA 
to require vehicle manufacturers to generate and provide safety 
performance information to prospective purchasers of new vehicles. 
Currently, NHTSA requires manufacturers to provide consumers with 
information on vehicle stopping distance, truck-camper loading, tire 
quality grading and utility vehicle handling and stability. (See 49 CFR 
575.) On June 28, 1994 (59 FR 33254), the agency proposed that 
information on vehicle resistance to rollover also be provided to 
consumers.
    The Coast Savings Act, enacted in 1972, includes, among other 
things, requirements for the development and distribution of 
comparative information on the crashworthiness of motor vehicles. In 
1978, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) was created to partially 
fulfill this requirement. NCAP test results evaluate the crash 
protection provided to front seat occupants by a vehicle's occupant 
protection devices. NCAP crash tests currently evaluate frontal crash 
protection only. Vehicles are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 mph, 
which is equivalent to a head-on collision between two identical 
vehicles each moving at 35 mph. Instrumented dummies register forces 
and impacts during the crash. That information is used by NHTSA to 
predict potential head, chest and leg injuries. In prior years, NHTSA 
also provided information on the integrity of the fuel system and the 
ability of windshields to enhance occupant protection. Approximately 
35-40 passenger vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, vans, and sport utility 
vehicles) are tested each year in NCAP, and the test results are made 
available to the public through news releases, and publication in 
popular consumer magazines.
    NCAP in NHTSA's most popular and successful vehicle safety consumer 
information program, based on the volume of calls to the agency, media 
attention, and the use of NCAP data by numerous consumer and insurance 
organizations. Several manufacturers have informed the agency that they 
view it important to perform well in the NCAP tests, even though there 
is no regulatory requirement to do so. The decline in the injury scores 
in NCAP tests over time for all manufacturers, as reported in Report on 
the Historical Performance of Different Auto Manufacturers in the New 
Car Assessment Program Tests, NHTSA, August 1993, can be attributed 
partially to NCAP.

Report to Congress

    In order to provide interested parties with NHTSA's most recent 
public statements on the provision of vehicle safety information, the 
agency believes it would be useful to summarize a recent report to 
Congress which is relevant to this subject. On December 8, 1993, in 
response to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the agency 
submitted a report to Congress on NCAP. This report, which is available 
in NHTSA's public docket, sets forth:
     The results of an 18-month study to assess consumer and 
media needs and preferences for better understanding and more effective 
use of NCAP data. These included a summary of several consumer focus 
group and media studies. These studies indicated that consumers and the 
media desire comparative safety information on vehicles, a simplified 
NCAP format to better understand and utilize the crash test results, 
and expansion of NCAP to include other crash modes, such as side 
crashes and rollovers. Plans for implementing the findings of these 
studies are included in that report.
     Studies of real-world crashes versus NCAP crash tests. 
These studies conclude that NCAP test conditions approximate real-world 
crash conditions covering a major segment of the frontal crash safety 
problem. NHTSA also concluded that there is a significant correlation 
between NCAP results and real-world fatality risks for restrained 
drivers. In high-speed frontal crashes, fatality risks to restrained 
drivers of cars that perform well in NCAP may be as much as 30 percent 
lower than fatality risks to restrained drivers of cars that do not 
perform well in NCAP. A more detailed report on this subject, titled 
Correlation of NCAP Performance with Fatality Risk in Actual Head-On 
Collisions has been published by the agency, and is also available in 
the NHTSA public docket. Public comments were separately sought on that 
report (see 59 FR 1586, January 11, 1994).
    The December 1993 congressional report also includes a review of 
NCAP historical performance and the following future goals:
     Reach a larger population with simplified data that will 
assist consumers in their vehicle purchases.
     Expand the collection of safety information by utilizing 
the additional injury-measuring capabilities of the more advanced 
Hybrid III dummy.
     Expand NCAP to provide comparative side impact information 
to consumers along with the frontal NCAP information.
     Monitor rollover safety activities to determine the 
potential for providing consumers with comparative information on 
levels of protection in a rollover crash and on vehicle roll stability.

January 3, 1994, Request for Comments

    NHTSA published a notice in the Federal Register on January 3, 
1994, (59 FR 104), to request comments on whether NHTSA should convene 
a public meeting to review and discuss NCAP issues. Comments were 
solicited on:
    (1) The desirability and need for such a public meeting; and
    (2) The topics for consideration if a meeting is conducted. 
Suggested topics included all items that were discussed in the 
Congressional report and others, such as--
    (A) Additional frontal crash modes and/or higher frontal test 
speeds,
    (B) Additional injury measures,
    (C) Whether crashworthiness assessment programs should precede or 
follow the rulemaking process, and
    (D) Review of the simplified NCAP format.

Response to January 3, 1994, Request for Comments

    Comments were received from three automobile manufacturers (Toyota, 
Volkswagen (VW), and Volvo), two automobile manufacturer associations 
(Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM), and the 
American Automobile Manufacturers Association (AAMA)), the Insurance 
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and four other interest groups 
(Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), Center for Auto 
Safety (CFAS), Institute for Injury Reduction, and Public Citizen).
    All commenters supported a public meeting. Toyota opposed the 
expansion of NCAP, urging the agency instead to provide consumers with 
information on specific vehicle safety features. VW stated that NCAP 
expansion is premature, while Volvo said that vehicle safety is more 
complex than can be represented by single tests at a single speed, etc. 
Conversely, Advocates, CFAS, and IIHS favor expansion of NCAP to other 
crash modes and speeds.
    The automobile industry generally felt that new NCAP activities, 
such as different test speeds, injury criteria, or crash modes, should 
be preceded by rulemaking notices to amend existing, or to add new, 
safety standards regulating the same aspect of performance. However, 
Advocates argued that NCAP-type consumer information programs should 
precede formal rulemaking.
    In comments on the new ``star'' rating system, a system intended to 
translate complex, quantitative test dummy ``injury'' readings into an 
easily understood format, Toyota questioned the validity of combining 
head and chest dummy injury readings into a single measure. VW stated 
that it found the new rating system more acceptable than the previous 
format. IIHS had reservations about the new star system because it 
believes that consumers may not fully understand that it can only be 
used to compare vehicles in the same weight class. CFAS stated that the 
system could be improved and should also reflect leg injuries.
    Several comments were provided on using additional or different 
injury criteria. Toyota and VW stated that the biofidelity of 
additional injury levels has not been established. IIHS said NHTSA 
needs to reassess its current NCAP injury criteria, given the 
widespread use of air bags. CFAS suggested using the additional injury-
predicting capability of the Hybrid III test dummy.
    CFAS also suggested that NHTSA publish make/model Fatal Accident 
Reporting System data, which includes the effects of who is driving the 
vehicle and where and how it is driven--as compared to NCAP which is a 
pure vehicle rating--and consider providing consumer information on 
window stickers. It also suggested that NHTSA define the audience for 
NCAP data.

Public Meetings

    To take advantage of the heightened consumer interest in safety, as 
well as in response to the public comments to its January 3, 1994, 
notice, the agency believes it is timely to convene a series of public 
meetings to discuss what types of vehicle safety information consumers 
desire, and how that information can best be provided. The agency is 
holding several meetings in geographically dispersed locations, to 
obtain participation from diverse groups. In particular, NHTSA points 
to the above-mentioned surveys and CFAS' suggestion that the agency 
define its audience for vehicle safety information. These meetings are 
consistent with and responsive to Secretary Pena's Strategic Plan for 
the Department of Transportation. In that Plan, the Secretary 
established goals and objectives to promote safe and secure 
transportation, to put people first and to develop continuous customer 
feedback to refine the services we are providing. These public meetings 
constitute a portion of NHTSA's activities to implement the Secretary's 
Plan.
    In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to provide rollover stability 
information, published June 28, 1994 (59 FR 33254), the agency is also 
seeking to provide expanded vehicle safety information to consumers 
prior to their purchasing a vehicle. The agency believes that window 
stickers, or other types of point-of-sale information (such as consumer 
brochures, access to information via personal computers, FAX-back 
machines, and other current technology) may be an effective means of 
reaching prospective vehicle purchasers. But other means, such as 
providing information at other central locations, such as libraries, 
may also be desired. (It should be noted that the agency has previously 
proposed that NCAP frontal crash information be provided on vehicle 
window stickers, see 46 FR 7025, January 22, 1981.) The agency also 
wishes to point out that it may not need to continue to conduct NCAP 
activities, if point-of-sale or other forms of information are provided 
by manufacturers, because the current type of NCAP test would simply 
duplicate manufacturer-conducted tests. NHTSA encourages participants 
to focus attention on these issues.
    The agency wants the public meetings to have the maximum possible 
level of public participation from a cross-section of the local 
community. A special effort will be made to attract average citizens 
who may not normally be inclined to participate in these meetings, but 
whose views will be especially valuable in this process. The meetings 
will be purposely informal to encourage participation and candid 
comments. The meetings have also been scheduled at times that are more 
convenient for average citizens.
    While advance notice of those desiring to participate in the 
meetings is requested, it is not required. NHTSA will attempt to 
provide sufficient time for all individuals desiring to participate to 
do so.

Public Comments

    The agency invites written comments from all interested parties. 
The agency notes that participation in the public meeting is not a 
prerequisite for the submission of written comments. It is requested 
but not required that 10 copies of each written comment be submitted.
    No comment may exceed 15 pages. (40 CFR 553.21). Attachments may be 
submitted in addition to the 15-page maximum comment. This limitation 
is intended to encourage commenters to present concise arguments.
    If a commenter wishes to submit specified information under a claim 
of confidentiality, three copies of the complete submission, including 
purportedly confidential business information, should be submitted to 
the Chief Counsel, NHTSA, at the street address given above, and seven 
copies from which the purportedly confidential information has been 
deleted should be submitted to the Docket Section. A request for 
confidentiality should be accompanied by a cover letter setting forth 
the information specified in the agency's confidential business 
information regulation, 49 CFR part 512.
    All comments received before the close of business on the comment 
closing date indicated above will be considered, and will be available 
for examination in the docket at the above address. NHTSA will continue 
to file relevant information in the docket as it becomes available, 
after the closing date, and it is recommended that interested persons 
continue to examine the docket for new material.
    Those persons desiring to be notified upon receipt of their written 
comments in the Docket Section should enclose, in the envelope with 
their comments, a self-addressed stamped postcard. Upon receipt, the 
docket supervisor will return the postcard.
    Persons making oral presentations at a public meeting are 
requested, but not required, to submit 25 written copies of the full 
text of their presentation to Vincent R. Quarles no later than two days 
before the meeting. Presentations should be limited to five minutes. If 
time permits, persons who have not requested time, but would like to 
make a statement, will be afforded an opportunity to do so. Copies of 
all written statements will be placed in the docket for this notice. A 
verbatim transcript of the public meetings will be prepared and also 
placed in the NHTSA docket as soon as possible after the meetings. A 
schedule of the persons or groups making oral presentations at a 
particular meeting will be available at the beginning of that public 
meeting.
    To facilitate communication, NHTSA will provide auxiliary aids to 
participants as necessary, during the meeting. Thus, any person 
desiring assistance of ``auxiliary aids'' (e.g., sign-language 
interpreter, telecommunications, devices for deaf persons (TDDs), 
readers, taped texts, braille materials, or large print materials and/
or a magnifying device), should contact Vincent R. Quarles at (202) 
366-4805 no later than 10 days before the meeting at which they wish to 
make a presentation.

    Authority: 15 U.S.C. 1392, 1401, 1403, 1407, delegation of 
authority at 49 CFR 1.50 and 49 CFR 501.8.

    Issued: July 21, 1994.
Barry Felrice,
Associate Administrator for Rulemaking.
[FR Doc. 94-18120 Filed 7-21-94; 11:17 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-59-M

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