Feds Set to Order More Safety Gear Standard

February 18, 2008

By early in the next decade, carmakers would have to equip all new vehicles with a system that will alert the drivers if someone or something is behind the vehicle under some new federal mandates.

The blind-spot-detection equipment would become mandatory under a new bill that has cleared both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The bill still needs the President's signature to become law, but President George W. Bush is expected to sign the legislation rather open the door during an election to charges that the Republican Party is indifferent to the fate of small children.

The automakers gave up fighting the new mandate more than a year ago and the Alliance For Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's major trade association, hailed the legislation after it was approved by the Senate, even though the have some reservations about statistics used to promote the bill.

The legislation would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationt (NHTSA) to prepare standards for rearward detection systems that would be required on all vehicles. The bill also requires pinch-proof automatic windows, which reverse when they sense an obstacle in their path, and an interlock system that makes it nearly impossible to move a car out of park without pressing on the brake pedal.

Most of these features are already on the market and available in many in many different models, though the rear-view detection systems tend show up now on premium vehicles or as a pricey option.

"This industry is 100 percent behind this legislation and we're committed to using these initiatives to further enhance child safety in and around motor vehicles. We applaud Congress for working with the Administration, the industry and others who share our concern for safety to produce this comprehensive approach to enhancing child safety," Alliance president Dave McCurdy said in statement issued after the bill was approved by the Senate.

"Safety is the Alliance's top priority and as global leaders in the area of research and development, our members continue to enhance automobile safety for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and especially for children. Today's autos have more safety features than ever before, including electronic stability control, side airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems and much more.

"However, no safety feature is more important than parents or caregivers. A child should never be left unattended inside or around an automobile," McCurdy noted.

In the past two years, supporters of the new legislation have waged a very successful campaign of the bill that moved relatively quickly on Capitol Hill since it was introduced in 2007. Among the co-sponsors of the legislation were Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire.

More than 670 children have died in non-traffic related automobile accidents since the beginning of 2005, according to statistics compiled by the Kids and Cars.

Nearly half of the non-traffic accidents involve back-over accidents, the organization data said. Moreover, backers of the bill pointed out the technology to prevent rearview blind-spot accidents is already available and won't require any major science projects to implement.

They also lined up support from Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, and the old Naderite group, Public Interest and the respected Academy of Pediatrics.

The bill, however, also gives automakers a generous amount of time to implement the new mandates. The NHTSA has 24 months to come up with the specific standards and the automakers will have up to 42 months after than to implement the standards.--Joseph Szczesny

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