WASHINGTON -- Carbon monoxide detectors in vehicles would save lives more cost-effectively than airbags, says Albert Donnay, an environmental health engineer.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not convinced.
NHTSA rejected Donnay's petition for a regulation that would require detectors in all new vehicles. Donnay also sought more research and public education about carbon monoxide poisoning.
Vehicle emissions systems eliminate most of the poisonous carbon monoxide from tailpipe gases. But more than 200 people die every year from accidentally inhaling too much of it, Donnay says. Many more use tailpipe exhaust to kill themselves.
Donnay attributes many of the accidental deaths to malfunctioning catalytic converters. A converter is a vehicle's main emission control device. The malfunctions often result from a lack of maintenance or tailpipe obstructions, he says.
"I'm really upset," Donnay says of NHTSA's rejection. He told Automotive News he will try other means to get detectors added to cars and trucks.
He says the cost would be a little more than $11 per vehicle.
Donnay, 47, of Baltimore, says he has focused on carbon monoxide threats since he learned in 1999 that a childhood friend had committed suicide with the gas.
His petition dealt primarily with accidental deaths -- NHTSA's main concern. But Donnay argues that people whose suicide attempts are thwarted often don't try again.
The detectors Donnay proposes would shut off engines in stationary vehicles when concentrations of carbon monoxide reach dangerous levels.
In moving vehicles, the detectors would warn motorists to open windows.
In its rejection notice, made public Sept. 27, NHTSA said the proposal would not prevent most carbon monoxide deaths.
Steve Kratzke, NHTSA's associate administrator for rule making, signed the document.
Many victims of carbon monoxide poisoning are found in garages and homes where vehicles were left running, the notice said. It added: "A home CO detector would be substantially more effective than a vehicle CO detector at preventing these deaths."
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