WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators plan steps to boost the safety of seats in new cars and trucks.
In documents made public Monday as part of President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, listed three priorities for improving vehicle crashworthiness.
He said he wants to reduce the dangers of rollovers and side impacts and to improve seating systems. The agency's focus on side impacts and rollovers was well known. The attention to seats is new.
Runge did not attend budget briefings to answer questions, and other agency officials were not immediately available to explain.
A rulemaking plan issued by NHTSA last July mentioned seats, but as one issue in a long laundry list of possible regulatory actions.
The plan did say, however, that seat backs should be strengthened to better protect people whose vehicles are rear-ended. It also said NHTSA believes there are safety advantages in anchoring seat belts to seat structures rather than vehicle pillars and floors.
Another revelation in the budget documents is NHTSA's plan to spend $10 million for a new study of the real-world causes of motor vehicle crashes.
NHTSA has been relying on data that is more than two decades old.
Overall the Bush administration is proposing that NHTSA be given $218 million for its programs and operations in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. That would be a 9 percent increase over what was proposed for the current fiscal year. Congress, bogged down in partisan fights, has not yet completed final action on legislation to fully fund government for the current fiscal year.
For 2004 NHTSA also would be responsible for administering about $447 million in traffic safety grants to state and local governments - about the same as this year.
Details of the proposed 2004 budget for NHTSA, as well as the rest of the federal government, were unveiled Monday in voluminous documents and a series of briefings throughout Washington.
President Bush plans total spending of $2.23 trillion, up about 4 percent over the current year.
Another budget item of interest to the automobile industry - a provision for promoting development of hydrogen fuel for fuel-cell-powered vehicles of the future - was given an early airing by the president in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28.