Markey, Blumenthal, DeGette to NHTSA: Update 50-Year-Old Seatback Safety Standard to Prevent Fatal Collapse, Investigate Automaker Compliance with Reporting Requirements

Lawmakers disappointed with automakers’ failure to prevent seatback collapse, notify federal government when death and injuries occur

Washington (November 22, 2016) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) today sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urging an update to the 50-year-old seat safety standard that can harm or kill backseat passengers when front seatbacks collapse during a rear-end crash. The Center for Auto Safety estimates the seat safety defect leads to the death of at least 50 children per year. The letter from Markey, Blumenthal, and DeGette also asks NHTSA to investigate automakers’ apparent failure, as discovered by the lawmakers’ investigation, to comply with the agency’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR) System requirements to submit information on incidents involving death or injury. Finally, the lawmakers call on NHTSA to strengthen EWR and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) so that the public can know if seatbacks are involved in injuries and fatalities.

In May 2016, Senators Markey and Blumenthal sent letters<http://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/markey-and-blumenthal-query-automakers-on-seatback-safety> to 16 automakers asking them to respond to questions about vehicle seating systems and known incidents of seatback collapse. Most automakers did not fully or specifically respond to the lawmakers’ questions. The lawmakers’ analysis of the written responses, available records of seatback collapse incidents, and NHTSA’s databases demonstrates:

* Although automakers claimed they sufficiently meet or exceed the 50-year-old seatback strength standard, accidents involving seatback collapse that lead to deaths and injuries continue to occur in many vehicle makes and models;

* Automakers have not reported all cases of seatback collapse to NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR) system as required by federal regulation, and NHTSA has not verified the accuracy or completeness of the EWR data that is submitted; and

* Reporting categories in EWR and FARS lack specificity and transparency so that entries relating to incidents of seatback collapse (or other potential safety defects) are easily identifiable.

“This standard is clearly out-of-date and must be updated to adequately protect back seat passengers,” write the lawmakers in the letter to NHTSA Director Mark Rosekind.

A copy of the letter to NHTSA and the lawmakers’ analysis can be found HERE<http://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/NHTSA-FMVSS%20207%20Nov%202016.pdf>.

An ongoing investigation by CBS News found 107 cases of seatback collapse across 35 states that resulted in an injury or death over the last 30 years. Several of those cases that should have been reported to EWR weren’t found in the database, which is required by law.

Additionally, the Center for Auto Safety found 3,455 injuries and 326 deaths listed in the EWR in which ‘seat’ was a contributing component, but it was impossible to determine whether a seatback collapse occurred because NHTSA does not require and automakers do not provide information sufficient to do so. In the letter, the lawmakers ask NHTSA to, provide copies of all death and injury reports requested by the agency for those injuries and deaths, and to share any police report information.

“NHTSA previously indicated that there was not sufficient data on seatback collapse to permit an informed decision on rulemaking action in this area,” write the lawmakers in their analysis. “Information on injuries and fatalities due to seatback collapse would be readily available from police reports, but without a dedicated field in EWR or FARS to methodically collect and organize such information, it is likely that NHTSA will continue to claim the problem of seatback collapse does not exist or is not pervasive enough to change.”

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