Congresswoman Diana DeGette

Representing the First District of Colorado
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DeGette Seeks to Prevent Auto Fatalities With Update to 50-Year-Old Seatback Safety Standard

Nov 23, 2016
Press Release

Denver, CO – With families in Colorado and across the country about to hit the roads for the holiday season, Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) has renewed her push for authorities to overhaul an outdated federal standard governing car seatback safety and require that the government be notified whenever death or injuries from seatback collapses occur.

DeGette and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CN) today sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urging an update to the 50-year-old seat safety standard that can harm or kill backseat passengers when front seatbacks collapse during a rear-end crash. The Center for Auto Safety estimates the seat safety defect leads to the death of at least 50 children per year.

The letter also asks NHTSA to investigate automakers’ apparent failure, as discovered by the lawmakers’ investigation, to comply with the agency’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR) System requirements to submit information on incidents involving death or injury. Finally, the lawmakers call on NHTSA to strengthen EWR and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) so that the public can know if seatbacks are involved in injuries and fatalities.

An ongoing investigation by CBS News found 107 cases of seatback collapse across 35 states that resulted in an injury or death over the last 30 years. Several of those cases that should have been reported to EWR weren’t found in the database, which is required by law. Additionally, the Center for Auto Safety found 3,455 injuries and 326 deaths listed in the EWR in which ‘seat’ was a contributing component, but it was impossible to determine whether a seatback collapse occurred because NHTSA does not require and automakers do not provide information sufficient to do so. In the letter, the lawmakers ask NHTSA to, provide copies of all death and injury reports requested by the agency for those injuries and deaths, and to share any police report information.

“NHTSA previously indicated that there was not sufficient data on seatback collapse to permit an informed decision on rulemaking action in this area,” wrote the lawmakers. “Information on injuries and fatalities due to seatback collapse would be readily available from police reports, but without a dedicated field in EWR or FARS to methodically collect and organize such information, it is likely that NHTSA will continue to claim the problem of seatback collapse does not exist or is not pervasive enough to change.”