May 11, 2004

Tougher side impact standards to save 700 to 1000 lives per year

Washington, D.C. – Proposed new side impact crash standards will save an estimated 700 to 1000 lives per year and prevent many more injuries, particularly head injuries, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This change in the way new vehicles are tested would take our safety program to a new level and have a dramatic, positive effect on traffic-related fatalities,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. The NHTSA estimates that, in serious side-impact crashes involving at least one fatality, nearly 60 percent of those killed have suffered brain injuries.

“We expect that this rigorous requirement will spur the introduction of a comprehensive array of technologies for side-impact protection. The proposal represents a major step toward safer vehicles,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.

The proposed upgrades would require auto manufacturers to provide head protection in side crashes for the first time. It would also enhance thorax and pelvis protection for a wider range of vehicle occupants involved in such crashes.

In addition, the upgrade would include a crash test dummy representing a small adult female used in side-impact performance testing. A new and more technically advanced dummy representing an adult male of average height would also be used in such crash testing.

The upgraded rule would also include an additional performance test involving a 20-mph vehicle side impact into a rigid pole at an approach angle of 75 degrees. The new pole test reflects real world side-impact collisions in which head injuries are prevalent. A large number of deaths in such crashes occur when a single vehicle strikes a tree or a utility pole. Other dangerous side-impact crashes often happen when a large vehicle strikes a smaller one at an intersection.

“Our goal is to protect all sizes of people, whether they are hit by an SUV or a pickup truck, or run into a tree,” Dr. Runge said.

The proposed regulatory upgrade could become a final rule as early as 2005, with a phase-in for all new vehicles beginning four years after publication of a final rule.

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