NHTSA: Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Occupant Crash Protection

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-04-02.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Office of the General Counsel


      April 2, 1997

      The Honorable John McCain
      The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
      United States Senate

      The Honorable Thomas J. Bliley, Jr.
      The Honorable John D. Dingell
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on Commerce
      House of Representatives

      Subject:   Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety
                 Administration: Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Occupant
                 Crash Protection

      Pursuant to section 801(a)(2)(A) of title 5, United States Code, this is our report on
      a major rule promulgated by the Department of Transportation, National Highway
      Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), entitled "Federal Motor Vehicle Safety
      Standards; Occupant Crash Protection" (RIN: 2127-AG59). We received the rule
      on March 17, 1997. It was published in the Federal Register as a final rule on
      March 19, 1997. 62 Fed. Reg. 12960.

      The final rule amends the NHTSA's occupant crash protection standard to ensure
      that vehicle manufacturers can quickly depower all air bags so that they inflate less
      aggressively. NHTSA states that the rule presents an interim solution to the
      problem of the fatalities and injuries that current air bag designs are causing in
      relatively low speed crashes to children, and occasionally to adult occupants.

      The final rule was made effective on the date of publication in the Federal Register
      which was March 19, 1997. This action did not allow the 60-day delay in a major
      rule's effective date as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement

Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA). In establishing the effective date, NHTSA, in the
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, requested comments on whether the rule should
become effective on the date of publication because of the urgent safety problem.
Commenters were in favor of an immediate effective date and no opposing
comments were received. Therefore, NHTSA states that it has determined that it
has good cause for making the rule effective without waiting the 60 days required

Enclosed is our assessment of the NHTSA's compliance with the procedural steps
required by section 801(a)(1)(B)(i) through (iv) of title 5 with respect to the rule.
Our review indicates that NHTSA, with the exception of the effective date, complied
with the applicable requirements.

If you have any questions about this report, please contact James Vickers, Assistant
General Counsel, at (202) 512-8210. The official responsible for GAO evaluation
work relating to the Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration is John Anderson, Director of Transportation Issues. Mr. Anderson
can be reached at (202) 512-2834.

Robert P. Murphy
General Counsel


cc: Nancy E. McFadden
    General Counsel
    U.S. Department of Transportation

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       ANALYSIS UNDER 5 U.S.C. § 801(a)(1)(B)(i)-(iv) OF A MAJOR RULE
                                ISSUED BY
                    OCCUPANT CRASH PROTECTION"
                            (RIN: 2127-AG59)

(i) Cost-benefit analysis

NHTSA, in its Final Regulatory Evaluation which was furnished to our Office,
discusses the costs and benefits of the final rule.

The evaluation states that costs are not a significant issue for the rulemaking
because depowering could be accomplished by substituting a lower powered
inflator, which may reduce variable costs by a small amount. Also, costs could be
reduced by economies of scale if the generic sled test allows for greater
commonality among air bag module components. However, there would be
engineering, development, and testing costs to design, develop, and certify
depowered air bags. The cost evaluation does not include any dollar amounts.

NHTSA estimates, based on data available from one less aggressive depowered air
bag in Australia, that 643 lives of belted occupants could be saved by having
depowered air bags. Based on research testing and math modelling, additional
estimates concerning reductions in fatalities, chest injuries, and arm injuries for
both driver side and passenger side air bags are included in the evaluation.

(ii) Agency actions relevant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 603-605,
607 and 609

The Administrator of NHTSA has certified that the final rule will not have
significant impact on a substantial number of small entities.

In response to notice of this certification in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the
Coalition of Small Volume Automobile Manufacturers, representing the five small
entities which manufacture automobiles, stated that the small entities are
significantly affected by NHTSA's rules and that it would be improper for NHTSA to
fail to consider the effects of its rules on these firms. Considering these comments,
NHTSA concluded that the final rule would not have a significant impact on a
substantial number of small entities because the rule does not impose any new
requirements or costs on vehicle manufacturers but permits 20 to 35 percent

depowering of the airbags. Also, no manufacturer is required to take any action as
a result of the rule.

(iii) Agency actions relevant to sections 202-205 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform
Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. §§ 1532-1535

The final rule does not contain a federal mandate under title 2 of the act for state,
local or tribal governments or the private sector, and therefore, section 202 and 205
are inapplicable.

In addition, the final rule does not affect small governments or contain a significant
intergovernmental mandate. Accordingly, sections 203 and 204 of the act, which
require agencies to consult with small governments and solicit input from state,
local and tribal governments, are also inapplicable.

(iv) Other relevant information or requirements under acts and executive orders

Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.

The final rule was promulgated using the notice and comment procedures of
5 U.S.C. § 553. NHTSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on January 6,
1997, in the Federal Register. 62 Fed. Reg. 807. NHTSA received over 160
comments in response to the notice and in the preamble to the final rule
summarizes the comments received and the reason why the alternative contained
in the final rule was adopted.

Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. §§ 3501-3520

The final rule contains no information collections which are subject to approval by
the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Statutory authorization for the rule

The final rule was issued under authority of 49 U.S.C. § 30111, which provides for
the Secretary of Transportation to prescribe motor vehicle safety standards.

Executive Order No. 12866

The final rule was reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget under the
executive order as a "significant regulatory action." The Office of Information and
Regulatory Affairs of OMB approved the final rule as complying with the
requirements of the order based on the information supplied by NHTSA, which
included a planned regulatory action document describing the reason for the rule
and an assessment of the costs and budgetary impact of the rule.

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Executive Order No. 12612

The final rule was reviewed by NHTSA under Executive Order No. 12612
(Federalism) and found not to have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the
preparation of a Federalism Assessment.

Executive Order No. 12988

The final rule has been reviewed under Executive Order No. 12988 (Civil Justice
Reform) and does not have any retroactive effect. NHTSA discusses the preemptive
effect of the rule with respect to any state or local law. It also discusses the
authority for judicial review of federal motor vehicle safety standards, including the
fact that there is no requirement for the submission of a petition for reconsideration
or other administrative proceedings before suit may be filed in court.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

NHTSA reviewed the final rule under the standards of the NEPA and determined
that it will not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment.
Therefore, an Environmental Assessment need not be prepared.

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