WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration, in another 11th-hour rule-making effort, is proposing stiffer requirements for head restraints in cars and light trucks. The rules, if adopted, would be the first major rewrite of the 32-year-old standards.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which proposed the changes last week, estimated they would cost manufacturers and suppliers $160.5 million to implement.
The agency also calculated the tougher standards would reduce the number of whiplash injuries in rear-impact crashes by about 14,000 a year. There now are about 270,000 of the injuries in rear-impact crashes and about 800,000 in all kinds of crashes annually, NHTSA said.
'This is certainly a step in the right direction,' said Adrian Lund, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The institute, the research arm for auto insurers, has been sharply critical of head restraint designs on many vehicles for providing inadequate protection from neck injuries.
Lund said NHTSA is probably being too conservative in estimating injuries that would be avoided with better restraints.
Vehicle manufacturers, who petitioned NHTSA in 1997 to make U.S. standards the functional equivalents of the somewhat tougher European rules, plan to study the agency proposal.
'We have to look at the science behind it, whether science supports what they are proposing,' said Scott Schmidt, manager of safety regulations for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing 13 automakers.
'Our biggest difficulty right now is that the biomechanics of whiplash is not well-known,' he said.
The agency will accept comments for two months and then, at a later date, under the Bush administration, decide on final rules.