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Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition


American Government Topics:  Chevrolet Tahoe

Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition

Jeffrey Mark Giuseppe
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
29 May 2019


[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 103 (Wednesday, May 29, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 24869-24871]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-11188]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2018-0085]


Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition

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

ACTION: Denial of petition for a defect investigation.

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SUMMARY: This notice sets forth the reasons for the denial of a 
petition submitted on August 6, 2014, by Mr. Donald Friedman to the 
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Office of 
Defects Investigation (ODI). The petition requests that the agency 
commence a proceeding to determine the existence of a defect related to 
motor vehicle safety with respect to the rollover crash performance of 
the model year (MY) 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe and similarly constructed 
General Motors (GM) vehicles. The petition alleges that the rollover 
side curtain air bag system in these vehicles is defectively designed 
and can allow second and third row occupants to be ejected in rollover 
crashes. In addition, the petition alleges that the side window glass, 
rear seat belts, and roof structure are defectively designed. After 
examination of the petition and available data relating to the rollover 
crash performance of the subject vehicles, NHTSA does not believe that 
a safety-related defect currently exists in the design of the rollover 
side curtain air bags in the MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe and other 
similarly designed Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon vehicles. The agency 
has accordingly denied the petition. The petition is hereinafter 
identified as DP15-004.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Michael Lee, Vehicle Defect 
Division C, Office of Defects Investigation, NHTSA, 1200 New Jersey 
Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: By letter dated August 6, 2014, Mr. Donald 
Friedman of Santa Barbara, CA, submitted a petition requesting that the 
agency investigate the rollover crash performance of the MY 2010 
Chevrolet Tahoe. The petitioner alleges that the rollover side curtain 
air bag (RSCAB) system in the MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe and similarly 
constructed GM vehicles is defectively designed and can allow second 
and third row occupants to be ejected in rollover crashes when the 
RSCAB has deployed. The petitioner also broadly requested NHTSA's ODI 
to conduct an investigation of the ``structural and consumer 
expectation defects in millions of General Motors vehicles that result 
in severe injury and death.'' In support of these claims, the 
petitioner submitted a two-page summary of his investigation and 
analysis of a rollover crash involving a MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe in 
which a second row passenger was fatally ejected, a summons and 
complaint from an ensuing lawsuit against GM, an electronic data 
recorder (EDR) readout from the vehicle, and his rebuttal of various 
expert opinions offered by GM during its defense of the lawsuit.
    The petitioner alleges the following defects in the Chevrolet Tahoe 
allow ejection of second and third row occupants in rollover crashes 
despite a fully deployed RSCAB:
     Safety Belts: The safety belts in the second seating row 
of the Chevrolet Tahoe failed to restrain an occupant and allowed that 
occupant's ejection.
     Roof Strength: The roof design fails to provide sufficient 
structural integrity for the occupant compartment and allows the side 
windows to fracture. The fractured side windows become ejection portals 
through which occupants are ejected.
     Containment/Glazing: The petitioner states that readily 
available window glazing technology that would prevent side window 
fractures in a rollover should have been used in the Chevrolet Tahoe.
     Window Curtain Tethers: The RSCAB design employed in the 
Chevrolet Tahoe did not incorporate tethers that would have prevented 
occupants from being ejected.
    On August 20, 2011, a MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe traveling on a 
highway in McAllen, Texas, rolled over several times in a grassy median 
after being hit by another vehicle. Of the eight occupants riding in 
the Chevrolet Tahoe, three were ejected. A 72-year-old

[[Page 24870]]

female, who was riding in the second row center seat, died as a result 
of head injuries due to contacting the ground during the crash event. 
There were no other fatalities.
    Although the petitioner claims the fatal occupant was wearing her 
3-point seat belt based on forensic and other evidence, the police 
accident report and GM's analysis indicate she and the two other 
ejected occupants were not restrained at the time of the crash. Based 
on the available information, including a review of all forensic 
evidence provided in the petition, ODI cannot reasonably determine 
whether or not the fatal occupant was wearing her seat belt and that 
any potential defect in the seat belt system exists.
    The petition also states that the vehicle's roof was defectively 
designed in that it did not have sufficient strength to protect the 
occupants in the rollover crash. No data was submitted in support of 
this allegation. Instead, the petitioner provided his own historical 
account of GM's purported resistance to, and deceptive conduct in 
opposition of, increased roof strength standards for passenger 
vehicles. ODI was unable to draw any conclusions of inference about 
potential defects from this material.
    Mr. Friedman's petition similarly alleged that the side window 
design was defective because the glazing fractured during the crash and 
the window opening provided an exit path through which occupants could 
leave the vehicle during a rollover. Again, no data was provided in 
support of this conclusory allegation, and ODI is unable to determine 
if, or how, this material supports the commencement of a defect 
investigation by NHTSA.
    The central allegation in the petition is that the side curtain air 
bags in the MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe are defectively designed. GM began 
installing RSCABs in the Chevrolet Tahoe and its other full-size and 
large SUV vehicles with optional or standard third row seating starting 
in, or around, MY 2007 production. GM also refers to the RSCABs as 
``rollover-capable roof rail air bags.'' The RSCAB system in the MY 
2007 to 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe and other GM SUVs includes a cushion/bag 
that covers the side windows from the A- to C-pillar (first and second 
row seats) and another smaller cushion covering the C- to D-pillar area 
(third row seat). The larger cushion is tethered to the A-pillar and 
the smaller cushion is tethered to the D-pillar.
    According to NHTSA's report on ejection mitigation, the cushions 
and tethers in the MY 2007 (and newer) Chevrolet Tahoe appear to have 
been designed to the state of the art for the mid-to-late 2000's time 
period.\1\ It states the Chevrolet Tahoe's cushion has sufficient size 
or coverage and stays inflated for several seconds. The RSCABs are 
typically tethered to the front and rearmost positions but not always. 
Some designs only have tethers at the A-pillar.
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    \1\ ``FMVSS No. 226 Ejection Mitigation--Final Regulatory Impact 
Analysis,'' January 2011, NHTSA, pp 5, 19, and 139-143.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Starting on September 1, 2013, and with a four-year phase-in 
schedule, all new passenger cars and light trucks must comply with 
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 226, Ejection 
Mitigation (49 CFR 571.226). This standard is designed to reduce the 
occurrences of ejections of vehicle occupants in crashes, especially 
rollover crashes. According to GM, all Chevrolet Tahoe vehicles 
manufactured on or after September 1, 2014 were certified to FMVSS No. 
226. Although the MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe at issue in the petition was 
not certified as meeting FMVSS No. 226, data evaluating the performance 
of the MY 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and peer vehicle RSCABs collected during 
the development of that standard exists and is relevant to the 
petitioner's claims.
    The ejection mitigation testing specified in FMVSS No. 226 involves 
impacting a head-form mass into a deployed RSCAB in four locations at 
each side window and at different impact speeds and at different times 
after deployment.\2\ The test requires that the impactor mass not 
displace in excess of 100 mm at each impact location. ODI's review of 
NHTSA's test results for the second and third row windows showed the MY 
2007 Chevrolet Tahoe does not stand out from the other MY 2005-2008 
vehicle models tested.\3\ The Chevrolet Tahoe performed better than 
other vehicles in some tests while it performed worse in other tests.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \2\ Ibid, pp 11-21.
    \3\ Ibid, pp 25-29.
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    ODI also examined complaint, claim, and crash data relating to the 
petitioner's claims. ODI's consumer complaint database does not contain 
any complaints of occupant ejections in crashes in any MY 2007-2015 
Chevrolet Tahoe (and its similar GMC Yukon) or other similar-vintage, 
full-size SUV vehicles equipped with RSCABs, so-called peer 
vehicles.\4\ Several complaints reported being in rollover crashes but 
none reported a fatality or occupant ejection. Most of these reports 
also alleged the side curtain air bags did not deploy in the crash.
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    \4\ Peer vehicles include 18 models: Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, 
Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC 
Acadia, Saturn Outlook, Dodge Durango, Jeep Commander, Ford 
Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Nissan 
Armada, Infiniti QX, Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota Sequoia, Lexus GX, 
and Lexus LX.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Early Warning Reporting (EWR) reports of death or injury incidents 
caused by an alleged defect were also examined by ODI. As of November 
28, 2018, ODI received three ejection-related death reports on MY 2007-
2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon vehicles in GM's EWR data.
    The first report states that a single-vehicle, single-occupant 
rollover crash resulted in the death of an unbelted driver. The RSCABs 
deployed in the MY 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe \5\, which rolled over several 
times. The driver was ejected from the vehicle. ODI reviewed the EDR 
data in this vehicle and did not find any anomalies in the data. This 
incident involves an ejection, but may be distinguished from the 
petitioner's claim, which alleges that the rear seat occupants were 
ejected.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \5\ This vehicle was built in March 2014, prior to when the 
Tahoe was certified to FMVSS No. 226.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The second report, like the first, was a single-vehicle, single-
occupant rollover crash that resulted in an ejection death of an 
unbelted driver of a MY 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. However, in this crash, 
the RSCABs allegedly did not deploy. While a non-deployment is a matter 
of concern, the defect alleged by Mr. Friedman's petition does not 
involve a failure to deploy.
    The third report indicates a media reporter contacting a police 
department about ``two rollover police fatalities'' involving MY 2009 
Chevrolet Tahoe vehicles. No other details were included in this 
report.
    ODI conducted a review of crash data in evaluating this petition. 
NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) tracks all fatal 
crashes involving motor vehicles occurring on public roadways in the 
U.S. An analysis of fatal crashes of full-size SUVs, where the vehicle 
rolled over, indicates the fatal occupant ejection rate of the MY 2007-
2014 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon vehicles (subject vehicles) does not 
stand out from the similar-vintage peer vehicles. The Chevrolet Tahoe 
and GMC Yukon had fatal ejection rates of 15.2 and 6.1 per million 
registered vehicles, respectively, while five peer vehicle models had 
rates higher than the Chevrolet Tahoe, nine models had rates lower than 
the GMC Yukon, and four models had rates that were between the 
Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon rates.
    NHTSA's National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) has records of a 
sampling of crashes and an analysis that may include, among other 
things,

[[Page 24871]]

the number of vehicle rolls or turns. A review of this data did not 
show any fatalities in the subject and peer vehicles involved in 
rollover crashes. The NASS records contain four, non-fatal incidents 
involving the subject vehicles (two on Chevrolet Tahoe and two on GMC 
Yukon) and a total of 10 non-fatal incidents on the peer vehicles, 
again showing the subject vehicles did not stand out from the peers. 
The number of vehicle rolls ranged from one quarter turn to nine 
quarter turns.

Conclusion

    Based on the information available at the present time, NHTSA does 
not believe that a safety-related defect currently exists in the design 
of the rollover side curtain air bags in the MY 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe 
and other similarly designed Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon vehicles. 
Therefore, the petition is denied. However, the agency will take 
further action if warranted by changing future circumstances.

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

Jeffrey Mark Giuseppe,
Associate Administrator for Enforcement.
[FR Doc. 2019-11188 Filed 5-28-19; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-59-P

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