Motor Vehicle Safety:

Passive Restraints Needed to Make Light Trucks Safer

RCED-90-56: Published: Nov 30, 1989. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 1989.

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Kenneth M. Mead
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) activities regarding light truck safety.

GAO found that: (1) NHTSA estimated that passive restraints in light trucks could save 1,500 lives annually; (2) NHTSA light truck data for 1982 through 1987 show a 22-percent increase in fatalities; (3) restraints would provide significant benefits, since 65 percent of light truck fatalities occurred from accidents in which the occupants were ejected; (4) NHTSA data also showed that light truck occupants tended not to use their manual belts; (5) only one of five major automobile manufacturers had plans to provide passive restraints for light trucks in the near future; (6) light truck manufacturers cited technical problems in installing passive restraints, and proposed a phased-in approach for passive restraints; (7) a major air bag supplier stated that it would need 2 to 3 years to expand its manufacturing capacity to meet a mandated passive restraint requirement; (8) NHTSA was developing a rule for requiring passive restraints in light trucks, but needed to avoid undue delays in establishing the requirement; (9) by October 1989, NHTSA had applied eight car standards to light trucks; and (10) NHTSA implemented new manual restraint testing, extended rear-seat restraint requirements for light trucks, and was studying the feasibility of additional rollover safety standards.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 20, 1991, NHTSA issued final rule extending the requirements for front seat automatic crash protection to light trucks. The requirement will be phased in on a 4-year period, beginning for vehicles manufactured after September 1, 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to establish a timetable for promptly moving the light truck passive restraint proposal through the rulemaking process and to periodically report on its progress to the Secretary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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