WASHINGTON - Automakers generally favor the administration's new rules requiring uniform anchorages for child seats in new cars and trucks. But they were caught off guard by some of the fine print issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on March 5, industry engineers said.
Bob Goldenthal, senior manager of vehicle safety and regulatory affairs for DaimlerChrysler, confirmed: 'We were surprised NHTSA took this tack.'
NHTSA estimates the new rules will add up to $6.62 to the cost of a vehicle and an average of $17.19 to the cost of a child seat, or a total of about $152 million a year. Phase-in begins this September.
Under the rules, automakers are to install small, rigidly mounted bars in the gaps between rear seat bottoms and seat backs in new cars and trucks. They are to provide tethers at the top. Every new child seat is to have connectors on each side for the bars and one at the top for the tether.
Automotive engineers describe two principal conflicts.
For the rigid bars, NHTSA has adopted testing procedures that exceed those recommended by the International Organization for Standardization. The car companies hoped - and expected - NHTSA to adopt ISO standards for the sake of regulatory harmony.
NHTSA's requirements for the location of top tethers and for the strength of tether anchors conflict with rules adopted by Transport Canada.
Goldenthal said, 'We've all been hopeful for ... a universal, worldwide, harmonized system.'
Industry engineers say that for competitive reasons car companies have been eager to get vehicles with universal anchorages on the market faster than the rules require. Because they thought they had an understanding with NHTSA about what would be required, they already are well along in the design process.
'Let's get there as quick as we can,' said one engineer, paraphrasing orders from automaker executives. He asked not to be named.
Now, member companies of the newly formed Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers are circulating a proposed petition to NHTSA. If approved, it would ask the agency to reconsider provisions on testing and on tether locations but not to alter the primary requirement for universal anchorages.
NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd said the agency would not react to a petition it has not seen.
NHTSA Associate Administrator Robert Shelton referred a reporter to the text of the agency's rule-making notice for the rationale for the tougher tests.
It says, among many things, that the agency could not find any test data supporting an ISO test recommendation and that under certain test conditions Transport Canada's rule did not provide a sufficient margin of safety.
Both industry and government are in agreement, however, about the need to correct the current situation. Now, there are hundreds of different ways required to secure a child properly in a car or truck because of the great variety in child seat designs and vehicle seat belt configurations.
And studies have shown that parents and others who care for children frequently get it wrong.