WASHINGTON - Proposed safety standards for 1968 models are expected to be published Thursday (Dec. 1) by the federal government.
The standards will be the middle ground between the 'ideal and the practical' in terms of cost and lead time, said Dr. Robert Brenner, deputy to the traffic safety administrator.
Twenty-three standards were proposed for 1968 models. Three were withdrawn, and the industry found it could meet 19 of the remaining 20. That left Standard 201, which spelled out interior occupant protection.
The industry argued that some its provisions were illegal, unreasonable or impracticable, and would require redesign that could not be completed in time for the 1968 cars. After a public hearing, the government softened 201 considerably. It was the industry's biggest victory since Washington entered the auto business.
The regulations, adopted for 1968, included six seat belts and two shoulder harnesses in every car; padding around the instrument panel, steering wheel, windshield pillars and front-seat backs; front and rear side lights; more-crushable armrests; recessed door handles; and more-collapsible steering columns.
So the automakers, kicking and screaming, entered the Age of Regulation. The kicking and screaming have abated somewhat, but the parade of safety standards continues. New ones are still being added.
More types of regulation were in the offing. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970 as the watchdog over tailpipe emissions, and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law was passed in 1975, to be effective with the 1978 models.
The CAFE standards - now 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.6 mpg for light trucks - call for a fine of $5.50 per vehicle produced for each one-tenth of a mile by which a manufacturer misses the fleet CAFE number for a specific model year. In other words, $55 per mpg.
If, for example, General Motors built 3 million cars and missed the standard by 1 mpg, it could be liable for a fine of $165 million. But liability is reduced by an elaborate system of carry-back and carry-forward credits.