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Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Toyota Corolla

Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition

Claude H. Harris
Federal Register
August 17, 2011

[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 159 (Wednesday, August 17, 2011)]
[Pages 51120-51122]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-20989]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation.

ACTION: Denial of motor vehicle defect petition.


SUMMARY: This document denies a March 2, 2010 petition from Fred and 
Susan Maynard of Williamsburg, Virginia, requesting that the agency 
open an investigation into the ``air bag systems failure'' that they 
experienced in their model year (MY) 2008 Toyota Corolla. After 
reviewing the petition and other information, NHTSA has concluded that 
further investigation of MY 2008 Toyota Corolla vehicles is unlikely to 
result in a determination that a safety-related defect exists. The 
agency accordingly denies the petition.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Michael Lee, Vehicle Integrity 
Division, Office of Defects Investigation, NHTSA, 1200 New Jersey 
Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590. Telephone: (202) 366-5236.


Alleged Problem

    The petitioners allege that the frontal air bags in their Toyota 
Corolla failed to deploy during a crash into a deer, while the vehicle 
was traveling at 55 mph. The petitioners believe the vehicle is 
defective because the air bags did not deploy during the crash. As 
described by the petitioners, neither the driver nor the front 
passenger sustained a significant injury in the crash. It appears that 
the deer impacted the front left area of the vehicle, causing the hood 
and left front fender to be displaced rearward.\1\ This resulted in 
deformation to the soft structural material (sheet metal) above the 
vehicle sub-frame.

    \1\ This is based on an assessment of the vehicle damage shown 
in a photograph provided by the petitioners.

Air Bag Deployments

    There are a number of important aspects to vehicle design. One is 
the vehicle structure, including crush zones. Another is the vehicle's 
air bag system, which by design discriminates between crashes that 
warrant air bag deployment and those that do not. To do this, current 
air bag systems sense vehicle deceleration, defined as the change in 
vehicle speed over a given period of time, then through the use of a 
microprocessor makes a careful assessment of the deceleration.\2\ 
Overall, the objective of the air bag system is to prevent injuries and 
deaths in crashes. In a minor crash, an air bag deployment may not be 
warranted, and in fact, may present an additional hazard to the 
occupants. Therefore, the system may not initiate air bag deployments 
in minor crashes.

    \2\ For each model of light vehicle, the decision of whether or 
not to deploy the front air bags is based on two deceleration 
thresholds; a lower threshold below which the air bags must not 
deploy, and a slightly higher threshold above which the air bags 
must deploy. This results in a narrow range of deceleration between 
the lower and upper thresholds where the air bags, by design, may or 
may not deploy. This range is carefully chosen by the vehicle 
manufacturer so as to meet all regulatory requirements as well as 
minimize occupant hazard due to air bag deployment.

    Due to the very low mass of a deer relative to a Toyota Corolla and 
the fact that the impact occurred above the vehicle's sub-frame, it 
appears that in this case, the deer impact did not slow

[[Page 51121]]

or decelerate the vehicle sufficiently to deploy the air bags. 
Moreover, neither the driver nor the front passenger was seriously 
injured. The level of injury reported in this crash is not indicative 
of the type of crash in which air bag deployment is expected.

Subject Vehicle Complaints

    Aside from the petitioners' complaint, the Office of Defects 
Investigation's (ODI) consumer complaint database contains a handful of 
other complaints of air bag non-deployment for the subject vehicles. As 
of March 31, 2011, out of a population of 170,356 vehicles,\3\ NHTSA 
received 9 consumer complaints (including the petitioners' complaint) 
of air bag non-deployment in crashes involving MY 2008 Toyota Corollas. 
This translates to a rate of 5.3 reported non-deployments for every 
100,000 vehicles. Eight of those were frontal crashes. ODI reviewed and 
analyzed the 8 crashes. This included an evaluation of the reported 
travel speed, object impacted, vehicle damage, level of occupant 
injury, and any other available information that would assist in 
assessing whether the air bags should have deployed. ODI's review did 
not uncover any defect trend of non-deployment of the subject vehicles' 
frontal air bags in moderate to severe frontal crashes.

    \3\ From NHTSA Early Warning Reporting data: number of vehicles 
sold in the U.S.

    ODI also analyzed Early Warning Reporting (EWR) data. Manufacturers 
are required to provide the agency with quarterly submissions of EWR 
data, which includes reports on incidents involving death(s) or 
injury(ies) identified in a claim or notice alleging the death or 
injury was caused by a possible defect in the vehicle. As of March 31, 
2011, ODI received one injury report on a subject vehicle in Toyota's 
EWR data. This report states that the frontal air bags did not deploy 
during a pole impact. The report also indicates that the passenger 
compartment was not deformed and the occupant injuries were minor in 
nature. Based on the available information, while NHTSA has not reached 
a definitive conclusion, this does not appear to be the type of crash 
that necessarily warrants air bag deployment.

Peer Vehicle Complaints

    The Toyota Corolla is not the only vehicle that is the subject of 
allegations regarding air bag non-deployments. The ODI database 
contains many reports alleging air bag non-deployment in other compact 
vehicles. ODI reviewed and analyzed consumer complaints of air bag non-
deployment in comparable MY 2008 compact vehicles: the Chevrolet 
Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra vehicles. In doing 
so, we were cognizant that historically there have been assertions that 
in specific crashes an air bag should have deployed, which were not 
always well-founded, or based on any technical analysis. There were 5 
reports of non-deployment in a population of 176,471 \4\ Chevrolet 
Cobalt vehicles, translating to a rate of 2.8 non-deployments for every 
100,000 vehicles. There were 6 reports of non-deployment in a 
population of 180,724 Ford Focus vehicles, translating to a rate of 3.3 
non-deployments for every 100,000 vehicles. There were 6 reports of 
non-deployment in a population of 355,611 Honda Civic vehicles, 
translating to a rate of 1.7 non-deployments for every 100,000 
vehicles. There were 6 reports of non-deployment in a population of 
110,355 Hyundai Elantra vehicles, translating to a rate of 5.4 non-
deployments for every 100,000 vehicles. Thus, air bag non-deployment 
complaints for the MY 2008 Toyota Corolla are not substantive when 
compared against peer vehicles and do not indicate a significant trend 
of non-deployment.

    \4\ All vehicle population counts in this section are taken from 
NHTSA Early Warning Reporting data: number of vehicles sold in the 

Crash Data

    NHTSA's review of crash data indicates that the air bag in the MY 
2008 Toyota Corolla generally deploys in moderate, severe, and fatal 


    NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) tracks all fatal 
crashes involving motor vehicles in the United States. An analysis of 
fatal crashes of 4-door compact vehicles, where the vehicle did not 
roll over, and the occupants wore their seat belts, generally indicates 
that air bags in MY 2008 Toyota Corollas deploy in fatal crashes. 
Specifically, ODI reviewed fatalities of belted drivers in the MY 2008 
Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cobalt, and Hyundai 
Elantra. Among these vehicles, the Corolla had the least number of 
fatal crashes when compared against other compact vehicles. The FARS 
database contains one report of a driver fatality in which the driver 
air bag did not deploy in each of a MY 2008 Corolla, Civic, and Focus. 
The Elantra and Cobalt reported no driver fatalities in situations 
where the air bag did not deploy. However, these two vehicles have the 
smallest populations among the peer compact vehicles compared.


    NHTSA's National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) has records of a 
sampling of crashes and an analysis that may include, among other 
things, a computation of the change in velocity of the vehicle during 
the crash impact. A review of this data shows no trend of non-
deployment of the frontal air bags in MY 2008 Toyota Corolla vehicles. 
The NASS records contain 26 reports on the subject vehicles. Of the 26 
cases, 15 were involved in frontal impact crashes. The remaining cases 
were corner, side, or rear impact crashes. Of the 15 frontal crashes, 
the frontal air bags deployed in 9 crashes, did not deploy in 5, and in 
one crash, information on air bag deployment was not available. In the 
5 cases of non-deployment, the change in velocity \5\ did not appear to 
be great enough to deploy the air bag, and there were no known moderate 
or serious injuries.\6\

    \5\ In the NASS database, change in velocity is calculated using 
an algorithm that takes into account vehicle crush measurements, 
weights, vehicle stiffness and other parameters. If crush and/or 
overlapping vehicle damage prevents accurate inputs to the automated 
program, change in velocity is estimated based on collision 
deformation classification (CDC) inputs into the algorithm. In cases 
where no change in velocity figure was available in NASS, NHTSA 
based its analysis on a visual inspection of photographs of the 
    \6\ Injuries in vehicle crashes are commonly characterized on 
the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS). For example, an ``AIS 1'' injury 
is specified as a minor injury, ``AIS 2'' as a moderate injury, 
``AIS 3'' as a serious injury, etc.

Crash Testing

    NHTSA's crash tests of the subject vehicles resulted in air bag 
deployment in all of the tests.


    All new passenger cars and lights trucks must comply with Federal 
Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208, ``Occupant Crash 
Protection.'' 49 CFR 571.208. This standard specifies minimum occupant 
protection performance levels for the restraint systems in vehicles. In 
2005, NHTSA conducted FMVSS 208 compliance tests on five MY 2005 Toyota 
Corolla vehicles, which are of the same generation as MY 2008 Corolla 
vehicles, and contain the same air bag system design.\7\ These were 
full frontal crash tests conducted with test vehicles carrying unbelted 
test dummies. The vehicles impacted a fixed barrier at 25 mph. The 
frontal air bags deployed in a

[[Page 51122]]

similar time and in a similar way in all five tests.\8\

    \7\ For purposes of evaluating occupant protection, the results 
of crash tests of MY 2005-2008 Toyota Corolla vehicles are 
representative for any included model year Corolla.
    \8\ FMVSS 208 uses instrumented test dummies and calculates the 
values of certain injury criteria. The injury criteria NHTSA 
measures for the upper body include ``Head Injury Criterion'' 
(``HIC''), chest acceleration, chest deflection, and several neck 
related performance requirements. In the first test of the MY 2005 
Corolla by NHTSA, there were test procedural issues that raised 
issues whether certain MY 2005 Corollas manufactured at a specific 
assembly plant in Japan might have been in marginal compliance with 
FMVSS 208. However, after the test procedural issues were resolved, 
all four subsequent test vehicles complied with all FMVSS 208 


    NHTSA conducts the frontal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) to 
provide consumers with information on the crash performance of 
vehicles. The test dummies in NCAP tests are restrained with seat belts 
and the vehicles crash into a barrier at 35 mph. There are no specific 
criteria which must be met in connection with NCAP tests. Rather, 
vehicles are given a safety rating of up to 5 stars in a frontal crash, 
side crash, and rollover. The driver's side and passenger's side are 
evaluated separately in each of those crashes. In a frontal crash, the 
MY 2005-2008 Toyota Corolla received 5-star safety ratings on both the 
driver's and passenger's side, which is the highest rating given for 
frontal impact crashes.


    Based on the information available at the present time, NHTSA does 
not believe that a safety-related defect currently exists for air bag 
non-deployment in the model year 2008 Toyota Corolla vehicles. 
Therefore, in view of the need to allocate and prioritize NHTSA's 
limited resources to best accomplish the agency's safety mission, the 
petition is denied. However, the agency will continue to monitor this 
event and will take further action if warranted by changing future 

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 30162(d); delegations of authority at CFR 
1.50 and 501.8.

    Issued on: August 12, 2011.
Claude H. Harris,
Acting Associate Administrator for Enforcement.
[FR Doc. 2011-20989 Filed 8-16-11; 8:45 am]

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