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NHTSA Publishes Upgraded Vehicle Standard For Fire Protection in Rear Impact Crashes

Washington DC November 25, 2003; The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced a tougher safety standard to reduce the chance of post-crash vehicle fires. The changes include a more realistic high-speed rear-impact crash test at 50 mph.

"Preventing fuel leaks in a crash is critical for preventing occupant death and injury from fire," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. "Although fires are relatively rare, they often have very severe consequences. These new tests can save lives and prevent terrible injuries."

Instead of the current rear crash test using a flat, rigid barrier at 30 mph, the new test uses a lighter, deformable barrier more representative of a typical vehicle's front end. The new barrier will strike the test vehicle at a speed of 50 mph. Further, the new test is an offset test in which the crash forces are focused on just 70 percent of the rear end. Under the current test, the entire rear end of a vehicle is struck by the test barrier.

The current side impact fuel system integrity test is also being upgraded. Instead of using a flat, rigid barrier striking the test vehicle straight from the side at 20 mph, the test will be conducted at 33.5 mph with the deformable barrier.

The new standard sets three separate limits on fuel spillage from crash-tested vehicles: 28 grams (1 ounce) during the impact of the crash; a total of 142 grams (5 ounces) during the next 5-minute time period; and 28 grams (1 ounce) during any 1-minute interval in the 25-minute period after that.

The agency estimates that the average cost for vehicles that will need to be modified to comply with the upgraded rear impact test is $5.31 per vehicle. The agency estimates that 46 percent of the vehicle fleet does not currently meet the upgraded rear impact test, and that approximately 16.7 million vehicles are sold each year, leading to a total cost for the fleet of approximately $41 million per year. Among the benefits from this rule will be an estimated 8 to 21 lives saved annually, once all vehicles on the road meet the new tests.

Manufacturers will be given until Model Year 2009 for full compliance with the new rear impact requirements under a phase-in schedule and until Model Year 2005 for full compliance with the new side impact requirements. The regulation applies to all passenger cars, light trucks, sport utility vehicles and buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds.