Automakers must develop new approaches to reduce the number of people ejected in U.S. rollover crashes, which are blamed for 10,000 deaths annually over the past decade.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expects manufactures to modify existing side curtain air bags to make them larger and deploy in all types of serious crashes, according to a regulation published on Thursday.
The ejection rule, which was years in the making, is the latest action by NHTSA to address rollovers since deadly crashes of Ford Motor Co. sport utility vehicles linked to defective Firestone tires in the 1990s spurred congressional scrutiny and massive recalls.
“Rollover crashes are the deadliest of all crash types and this is another important step in our efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries that result from them,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
Carrying out the mandate would cost manufactures roughly $31 per vehicle, or $400 million based on total annual U.S. sales of 13 million cars and trucks, which is what the auto industry forecasts for 2011.
Rollovers represent about a third of all crash deaths and were blamed for an average of 10,000 fatalities per year over the past decade, according to government statistics. About half of those killed in rollovers are ejected and most are ejected through side windows.
Strickland said the new rule would prevent, on average, 373 deaths and 476 serious injuries annually.
Industry has two years to begin phasing in changes, which must be standard by 2017.
The agency previously adopted tougher crash tests and mandates for electronic stability systems to help keep vehicles on the road.
Since the Firestone tire problem, manufacturers have redesigned many mid-size and smaller SUVs, including the Explorer, to lower their center of gravity. They are now called crossovers.
Regulators addressing ejection were also influenced by stubbornly high fatal crash statistics and studies showing that drivers and their passengers have a much better chance of surviving a crash if they are not thrown from their vehicle.
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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