DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
[Docket No. 97-29; Notice 01]
National Academy of Sciences' Study
AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.
ACTION: Request for Comment.
SUMMARY: This notice summarizes a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences titled
"Shopping for Safety - Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information." The study makes a
number of recommendations to NHTSA on ways to improve automobile safety information for
consumers. This notice requests comments on NHTSA's response to the recommendations of
this study and on programs NHTSA has begun or is considering to address these
recommendations. NHTSA is requesting comments because it wishes to develop these programs
in cooperation with other interested parties.
DATES: COMMENT DATE: Comments must be received by (insert date 90 days following
publication in the Federal Register).
ADDRESSES: Comments should refer to the docket and notice number of this notice and be
submitted to: Docket Section, Room 5109, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400
Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590. (Docket Room hours are 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.,
Monday through Friday.)
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mary Versailles, NPS-31, Office of Safety
Performance Standards, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400 Seventh Street,
SW, Washington, DC 20590. Ms. Versailles can be reached by phone at (202) 366-2057 or by
facsimile at (202) 366-4329.
As part of the agency's regulatory reform commitment, and the formation of the Planning
and Review Division in Safety Performance Standards (NPS), a comprehensive review of
NHTSA's motor vehicle safety consumer information programs has been undertaken. This
activity reflects the agency's increased focus on consumer information complementing the
traditional engineering standards focus of its rulemaking function.
In 1994, NHTSA held four town meetings as part of the reform effort. The purpose of
these meetings was to let NHTSA hear directly from the public what kind of automobile safety
information they want and how NHTSA can best provide it to them. Based on some of the
comments at these meetings, consumers want more information about available safety features,
expanded outreach for NHTSA's safety information, and an overall safety rating for vehicles.
As part of the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act,
1995 (P.L. 103-331; September 30, 1994), Congress provided NHTSA funds "for a study to be
conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of motor vehicle safety consumer
information needs and the most cost effective methods of communicating this information." The
NAS study was completed and released to the public on March 26, 1996. It is titled "Shopping
for Safety - Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information," TRB Special Report 248.
Based on its findings, the study makes recommendations to NHTSA on ways to improve
automobile safety information for consumers. The recommendations are classified in three
categories: Improvements to Existing Information, Development of Summary Measures, and
Development of a Process to Stimulate Better Consumer Safety Information and Safer Cars.
Using the NAS recommendations and input from the public meetings as a guide, NPS is
striving to improve significantly the motor vehicle safety consumer information that NHTSA
provides to the American public. This notice summarizes the NAS study and requests comments
on NHTSA's response to the recommendations of this study. NHTSA is also requesting
comment on some specific ongoing and planned programs that address these recommendations.(1)
Improvements to Existing Information
In the short term, the study recommends that NHTSA provide consumers with more
explicit information on: the importance of vehicle size and weight; the benefits of (and proper
use of) safety features such as seat belts and anti-lock brakes; the frequency of crash types for
which test results are available; and the uncertainties associated with crash test results. The study
also recommends that NHTSA establish the reliability of crash test results and identify the
source(s) of variance in those results. The final short-term recommendation is that NHTSA
improve the presentation and dissemination of existing safety information by increasing
awareness of the availability of this information and by making the information more accessible.
NHTSA agrees with all of these recommendations except the recommendation to
establish the reliability of crash test results and identify the source(s) of variance in those results.
In 1984, NHTSA thoroughly examined this issue with respect to the New Car Assessment
Program (NCAP) and implemented changes to reduce test variability, such as more consistent
placement of the test dummy and the initiation of an instrument auditing system. However, crash
tests will always have some variability. A star rating system was introduced for NCAP in 1994.
This system further reduces the influence of variability in that vehicles with a range of numerical
dummy readings have the same star rating. Usually, the star ratings given by the manufacturer
and NHTSA are different only if the vehicle's numerical rating is on the border of the range of
scores for a star rating.
NHTSA agrees with the recommendations to provide more consumer information and to
improve the presentation and dissemination of consumer information. NHTSA will continue
efforts in existing areas, including long-term programs related to the benefits and proper use of
safety belts and in more recent efforts to address issues regarding children and air bags.
Information on the frequency of various crash types (frontal, side, rear, rollover) are available.
NHTSA will look at ways to make that information and other information more accessible by
broadening the dissemination outlets that the agency uses.
NHTSA plans improvements to two existing consumer brochures, the Uniform Tire
Quality Grading brochure and "Buying a Safer Car." The Uniform Tire Quality Grading
brochure was developed in 1986 to provide information to consumers on what they should look
for when purchasing new tires. It answers some common questions consumers ask about tire
grades, treadwear, traction, and temperature resistance. A final rule was published in September
1996, adding a higher grade for traction. NHTSA plans to update the brochure to include the
additional grade and provide consumers with additional tire safety tips. If appropriate, a public
service announcement (PSA) may be developed to compliment the information provided in the
Beginning with model year 1995 vehicles, NHTSA, in cooperation with the American
Automobile Association (AAA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has published the
"Buying a Safer Car" brochure. The brochure contains NCAP crash test results and safety
feature information for new motor vehicles.
The "Buying a Safer Car" brochure is being updated for model year 1997. For example,
the safety feature section will be modified as one feature highlighted in previous brochures, side
impact protection, is now mandatory for all vehicles. Also, in its fiscal year 1997 budget,
NHTSA received money to conduct side impact testing in a program similar to the NCAP
program (this program is referred to as side impact NCAP). The crash test result section will be
modified to add crash test results for the new side impact NCAP program.
NHTSA is examining ways to increase the number of copies distributed from previous
years. The brochure will be advertised in new areas to reach additional audiences. The NAS
study also recommends that safety information be available in dealer showrooms. NHTSA is
interested in comments on the usefulness of having this and other safety materials available at the
showroom for prospective buyers.
In addition, building on the success of "Buying a Safer Car," a new brochure titled
"Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers" is under development. The brochure will inform
consumers on the hazards that air bags present to children and provide advice on other vehicle
features that can increase the safety of children in vehicles. The brochure will identify vehicles
that have special equipment, such as built-in child seats and manual air bag cut-off switches that
enhance children's safety, and discuss features car buyers can watch for to decrease the chance of
vehicle/child seat incompatibility. Like "Buying a Safer Car," the agency hopes that the new
brochure will be a joint effort with groups such as child transportation safety advocates, AAA,
and other national organizations.
NHTSA is also planning other new consumer information programs. One such program
would be the development of consumer information materials on preventing motor vehicle theft.
Specifically, a theft prevention PSA designed to alert consumers to remove their keys from their
vehicle's ignition, to lock the doors, and other tips to prevent vehicle theft will be developed. In
addition, a brochure will be created to give consumers information on how they can help deter
theft; information on the types of programs in place in various states that are helping to reduce
and deter vehicle theft, and/or designed to enhance the recovery of vehicles; a list of the top 20
most stolen vehicles; desirable components of an antitheft system; and a list of the vehicle lines
with agency-approved antitheft systems.(2) Again, this could be a collaborative effort between
NHTSA and other public and private sector organizations.
Another new project concerns rollover. There are over 200,000 rollover crashes
involving light duty passenger vehicles annually. These result in over 9,000 fatalities and over
50,000 serious, incapacitating injuries. Rollover crashes occur for many reasons and involve the
interaction of a variety of factors including the driver, the roadway, the vehicle, and
environmental conditions. NHTSA is pursuing a broad range of actions to address the rollover
problem as part of its comprehensive rollover plan. Many of these actions are of a technical
nature, however, consumer information activities which change the behavior of drivers and
occupants can also reduce the rollover rate (e.g., driving too fast for road conditions) or can
lessen the injuries and fatalities if a rollover occurs (e.g., wearing safety belts). In addition to
some of the existing consumer information actions, the agency would like to develop a video to
highlight "do's and don'ts" in common situations that result in rollover crashes or increase
injuries when a rollover occurs.
With regard to the importance of vehicle size and weight, NHTSA believes that most
consumers have an understanding that a larger and/or heavier vehicle is safer for the occupants of
that vehicle.(3) Some information on effect of vehicle size and weight is included in NHTSA
information, for example, NCAP press releases. NHTSA will explore whether anything can be
added to this information to make it more useful to consumers. NHTSA is interested in any
suggestions for ways to present this information to consumers.
In the area of proper use of vehicle safety features, NHTSA will look at ways to
disseminate more information. Educational materials, in the form of PSAs, brochures, and
consumer advisories, will be developed to ensure the driver understands correct driving behavior
and is able to interact properly with the system. For example, drivers are not fully educated on
whether their vehicles have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and, if so, how properly to use these systems.
Another area where an educational program can address misuse of safety features is proper use
and positioning of head restraints.
NHTSA will continue recent efforts to improve presentation and dissemination of
consumer information materials. On November 27, 1996, NHTSA published a final rule
amending Standards No. 208 and 213 to require new, attention-getting warning labels for
vehicles without advanced passenger-side air bags and for rear-facing child seats. The labels
were part of a comprehensive plan the agency is undertaking to reduce the adverse effects of air
bags, especially the adverse effects for children. As part of the process leading to these
amendments, the agency conducted focus groups to test public reaction to possible changes to the
labels. NHTSA will continue to do qualitative research, including focus groups to learn more
about what type of information is useful and how it can best be presented. NHTSA believes the
use of focus groups in this rulemaking helped to ensure that the information on the labels was
understandable to consumers and increased the chance that the labels could affect consumer
On October 1, 1995, NHTSA introduced a home page on the Internet. This medium has
provided the agency with an opportunity to greatly advance automotive safety by enabling people
to more easily access agency information. During the first month of 1997, over 8,000 users made
over 50,000 queries to the NCAP database on the home page.(4) The site has been redesigned
since its opening to make it more interesting and helpful, and to increase ease of use. However,
not everything is complete. NHTSA is continuing to make changes to convert files to more
readable documents and will continue to add files to accommodate additional information.
NHTSA is interested in working with other organizations that have web sites (e.g.,
manufacturers, insurance companies, or auto clubs) to provide links between those sites and
NHTSA will work with other partners and customers, both internal and external, to
provide information to consumers, similar to the successful partnership with the AAA and the
FTC to produce the annual "Buying a Safer Car" brochure. NHTSA has found that such
activities are more beneficial to all when a more cooperative approach is used to resolve potential
Finally, responding to the President's directive for a new approach to the way government
interacts with the private sector to improve the regulatory process, several public meetings have
been held in the past few years with regard to vehicle-related safety issues. The agency has
conducted public meetings on safety issues including mirrors, vehicle lamps and reflective
devices, school bus safety, and heavy vehicle safety. Such public outreach meetings will
continue to be held in the future.
Development of Summary Measures
In the long term, the study recommends the development of one overall measure that
combines relative importance of crashworthiness(5) and crash avoidance(6) features for a vehicle.
The study recognizes however, that, for the foreseeable future, summary measures of
crashworthiness and crash avoidance must be presented separately due to differences in current
level of knowledge, and differences in the roles of vehicle and driver in the two areas. For now,
the NAS study recommends that the agency develop a summary measure of a vehicle's
crashworthiness which incorporates quantitative information supplemented with the professional
judgment of automotive experts, statisticians, and decision analysts. NHTSA should provide
information with this measure to reflect the range of uncertainty in those judgments. For crash
avoidance, the study recommends the development of a checklist of features for the near future.
The study also recommends that NHTSA present consumer information in a
hierarchically organized approach. Such an approach would have the most highly summarized
information on a vehicle label with a graphical display or on a checklist. This could be part of
the current labels on new vehicles, or, preferably, a separate label focusing on safety information.
The next level of information would be an accompanying brochure with more detailed
explanations of the summary measures, information on the assumptions used in those
calculations, etc. The most detailed level would be a handbook with complete comparisons of all
Other longer term recommendations are the development of a multichannel approach to
the dissemination of information, including NHTSA's Auto Safety Hotline, the Internet, asking
the insurance industry and automobile clubs to include information in their mailings, having
NHTSA information printed in consumer journals, having safety information included in driver
education courses, and public service announcements. The NAS study also recommends that the
agency conduct research into consumer decision making and safety information requirements.
The research would examine how consumers conceptualize auto safety, how consumers use
safety information in choosing a vehicle, and how safety information can best be communicated
NHTSA agrees in principle with all of these recommendations. Surveys of new car
buyers indicate that safety has become an important factor in new car purchase decisions.(7) In
fact, over 75 percent of the respondents in a recent NHTSA customer survey indicated that safety
was a "very important" consideration in their vehicle purchase decision. As the NAS study
points out, "little systematic information is available on what consumers believe or understand
about vehicle safety, or how and when they think about safety in choosing a vehicle."
Accordingly, as recommended by the NAS study, research efforts will be conducted to determine
what consumers believe about vehicle safety, how they think about safety in buying a vehicle,
what information is most important, and how it can be best presented. The results of this
research will provide the foundation for the development of NPS' future motor vehicle safety
consumer information activities.
NHTSA plans to conduct the research in two phases. In the first phase, the project will
examine what consumers believe or understand about vehicle safety, their level of awareness of
vehicle safety information and where such information is available, and how (if at all) they use
such information in their decision to buy a particular vehicle. In the second phase, NHTSA will
attempt to determine the most effective public information strategies and messages for reaching
consumers through various media. Research will be conducted to determine what vehicle safety
information is most helpful to consumers, how it can be best presented, and how can it best be
introduced into the car-buying process.
In fiscal year 1992, Congress asked NHTSA to provide consumers with easily
understandable vehicle safety performance information. As a result of this request, beginning
with model year 1994 vehicles, NHTSA has presented NCAP data using a star rating system.
The system represents a vehicle's relative level of crash protection in a head-on collision,
combining both head and chest injury data.
For the first year of the new side impact NCAP program, NHTSA is using a star rating
system. NHTSA is studying the possibility of combining frontal NCAP and side impact NCAP
ratings into a single rating. This single rating would represent the vehicle's relative level of crash
protection in both a head-on and side collision. Such a program could be a first step to a
summary crashworthiness rating. Additional tests being researched by NHTSA now or in the
future (e.g., offset frontal) could be added to such a rating in the future. The agency plans to
perform research to determine whether consumers would find a combined rating useful and
whether information conveyed by the star rating system is easily comprehended.
In addition to the project to combine frontal NCAP and side impact NCAP data into a
single rating, the agency has considered a number of approaches to exploring the NAS study
recommendation that a comprehensive crashworthiness rating be developed. One approach
would be a Federal Advisory Committee to develop a method that the agency or others could use
to "rate" new vehicles. Such method would indicate what quantitative information should be
used (both from NHTSA and from other sources), how such information should be combined,
and how such information would be supplemented with expert judgement. Such a committee
would have to be formally chartered before this action could begin. If a Federal Advisory
Committee were used, the committee's recommendations would be advisory only.
Another option would be for NHTSA to conduct a negotiated rulemaking. If an
agreement as to a method were reached under this option, NHTSA would agree to propose a new
consumer information regulation. However, a regulatory approach may be less desirable, as
rulemaking to amend the regulation would have to be conducted whenever the state of
knowledge is advanced enough to allow more defensible information and less expert judgement
to be used in the rating system. NHTSA is particularly interested in comments on the process
NHTSA should use to explore this recommendation.
NHTSA has considered another alternative to the rating recommended by the NAS study.
That alternative would involve the development of a standard means by which manufacturers
would establish the degree to which a specific vehicle make/model exceeded the minimum
requirements in the safety standards. Consumers would be able to use such information to make
their own comparisons of various vehicles.
With respect to the NAS study recommendation to develop a list of important crash
avoidance features, NHTSA is considering going slightly beyond the study's recommendation.
In developing the recommendations, the NAS study committee conducted a survey to test
reaction to two summary rating labels. The crash avoidance information on both of the sample
labels used by NAS provides comparative information on some crash avoidance features, rather
than indicating only the presence or absence of the feature. This suggests that the NAS
recommendation to develop a list of crash avoidance features is not the goal, but a beginning in a
process to develop more specific information for consumers on the crash avoidance capabilities
Using the new vehicle models to be crash tested in the NCAP program, NHTSA believes
that some comparative crash avoidance information can be obtained. Prior to the crash test,
additional tests could be performed on these vehicles without affecting the vehicles' usefulness
for NCAP testing. Examples of such information would be comparative information on a
vehicle's braking ability or lighting. In the area of braking, NHTSA plans to evaluate
performance on curves with different peak coefficients of friction, as well as straight-line
stopping distances on dry pavement. With respect to lighting, NHTSA plans to evaluate work
that has been done by the industry to quantitatively assess how pleasing a headlamp beam pattern
will be to vehicle purchasers. This would make additional comparative information on these
vehicles available to consumers. The agency is interested in comments on the usefulness of
comparative crash avoidance information and the type of information most desired by
consumers. Based on the response received, research will be conducted to develop test protocols
for additional attributes that could be measured on future NCAP vehicles.
NHTSA particularly supports the NAS study's recommendation that consumer
information be provided in different, hierarchical, levels of detail. First, NHTSA requests
comments on the NAS study recommendation that safety information be labeled on new vehicles.
Specifically, NHTSA asks about the preference for a new label separate from existing labels. If a
respondent does not believe that this information should be on a vehicle label, NHTSA asks for
comments on alternative means to provide this information to consumers.
In addition, NHTSA is concerned that the owner's manual currently may contain too
much and too detailed information for consumers to be able to locate the most important safety
tips they should know and follow. Some manufacturers currently use a "safety card," similar to
the card found in airline passenger seat pockets to alert consumers to critical safety information.
Using focus groups, NHTSA will explore the usefulness of such a card. We will also test ways
to devise a format for such a card and how best to disseminate it. NHTSA plans to look at
existing owner's manual requirements, especially those paired with a labeling requirement.
Since many of these paired requirements are for the same information, NHTSA requests
comments on whether the information should be solely in the owner's manual, solely on the
label, or if the agency should require the owner's manual to present additional, more detailed
information on the subject covered by the label.
Development of a Process to Stimulate Better Consumer Safety Information & Safer Cars
The final recommendation of the study is the development of an organizational structure
to create and disseminate consumer safety information and to provide a process to continuously
improve the measures used to report vehicle performance and safety and, as a result, lead to safer
cars. The study lists six attributes of a successful organization to achieve these ends:
involvement of the major stakeholders (NHTSA, manufacturers, insurance industry, consumer
groups), balance between responsiveness and independence, openness, continuity, funding, and
feasibility. The study then lists the following five possible institutional arrangements: operation
through existing NHTSA programs; operation through a new NHTSA Federal Advisory
Committee (FAC); creation of a new public-private automotive safety institute; operation
through the private sector; and operation through nongovernmental organizations (i.e., public
interest groups). The study concludes that the two institutional arrangements with the highest
probability of success are a new NHTSA FAC or a new public-private institute.
For the immediate future, NHTSA will try to implement the recommendations of the
NAS study through existing NHTSA programs, in particular the Planning and Review Division
in the Office of Safety Performance Standards. NHTSA is not as skeptical as the NAS study
about the chance of success with this approach, particularly as some named drawbacks are not
inherent in the approach. For example, one named drawback involved the lack of participation of
major stakeholders. However, in the rulemaking area, NHTSA is required by Federal law to
provide notice of any action it is considering and to address any relevant comments received in
response to that notice. Thus, in that area there is a process to allow all interested parties to
participate. As noted in some of the discussions above, NHTSA also tries to ensure participation
from outside interests in other projects even when not statutorily required. NHTSA believes it
can at least reduce the effect of the named drawbacks by being aware of them when undertaking
projects in this area.
If a Federal Advisory Committee is used as the means to develop a summary
crashworthiness measure, that activity will also allow NHTSA and other interested parties to
evaluate the possibility of the use of a FAC for a broader approach to implementing the
recommendations of the study. NHTSA is concerned about the recommendation to create a
public-private institute. First, as the study notes, such an activity would have a long start-up
period and other approaches would be necessary in the interim. Second, while some of the
stakeholders may be able to finance a large share of the costs of such an institute (i.e.,
manufacturers), others do not have such resources (i.e., consumer groups). Thus, NHTSA is
concerned about whether the interests of all stakeholders could be fairly represented. However,
NHTSA is interested in comments on any of the approaches addressed in the study, or in
suggestions for other approaches.
Specific Requests for Comments
When commenting on this notice, the agency requests that respondents address the
- Indicate whether or not you support each NAS recommendation and the
- Identify those cases where you believe NHTSA's response to a NAS
recommendation and/or NHTSA's planned consumer information activities to
address the recommendation are inadequate or inappropriate. Discuss the
basis for your position, in particular, if you believe NHTSA's response is
inadequate, discuss what you believe is an appropriate response.
- Identify additional actions not recommended by NAS that you believe
NHTSA should undertake to improve motor vehicle safety consumer information.
- Identify actions your organization would be willing to take, alone
or in collaboration with NHTSA, to assist in implementing the NAS
recommendations and improving motor vehicle safety consumer information.
Submission of Comments
Interested persons are invited to submit comments on this notice. It is requested but not
required that 10 copies be submitted.
Comments must not exceed 15 pages in length. (49 CFR 553.21). Necessary attachments
may be appended to these submissions without regard to the 15-page limit. This limitation is
intended to encourage respondents to detail their primary arguments in a concise fashion.
If a respondent wishes to submit certain information under a claim of confidentiality,
three copies of the complete submission, including purportedly confidential business
information, should be submitted to the Chief Counsel, NHTSA, at the street address given
above, and seven copies from which the purportedly confidential information has been deleted
should be submitted to the Docket Section. A request for confidentiality should be accompanied
by a cover letter setting forth the information specified in the agency's confidential business
information regulation (49 CFR Part 512).
All comments received before the close of business on the comment closing date
indicated above will be considered and will be available for examination in the docket at the
above address both before and after that date. To the extent possible, comments filed after the
closing date will also be considered. Comments will be available for inspection in the docket.
The NHTSA will continue to file relevant information as it becomes available in the docket after
the closing date, and it is recommended that interested persons continue to examine the docket
for new material.
Those persons desiring to be notified upon receipt of their comments in the docket should
enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard in the envelope with their comments. Upon receiving
the comments, the docket supervisor will return the postcard by mail.
L. Robert Shelton
Associate Administrator for
Safety Performance Standards
BILLING CODE: 4910-59P
1. The notice only discusses programs of the Planning and Review division in NPS. Consumer information programs in other NHTSA offices are not discussed.
2. Manufacturers of vehicles classified as high theft vehicle lines must inscribe or affix vehicle identification numbers on certain major original equipment and replacement parts. Manufacturers may petition NHTSA to exempt high theft vehicle lines from this requirement if all vehicles in the line are equipped, as standard equipment, with an antitheft device that NHTSA has determined is likely to be as effective as parts marking to reduce vehicle theft.
3. Conversely, in a collision, a larger, heavier vehicle decreases the safety for occupants of the smaller, lighter vehicle.
4. The first number is much smaller than the second because a single user will typically query the database many times during a user session.
5. Crashworthiness refers to a vehicle's ability to protect occupants from serious injury or death when a crash occurs.
6. Crash avoidance refers to a vehicle's ability to prevent a crash from occurring.
7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 1995 Customer Satisfaction Survey.