While the Institute is urging the U.S. government to toughen bumper standards, Canada has gone in the opposite direction and weakened bumper rules. In June Transport Canada published a rule that lowers the test speed in front and rear impacts to 2.5 mph from 5 mph. For corner impacts, the test speed was lowered to 1.5 mph from 3 mph. The rollback aligns Canada's bumper test speeds with those of the United States and Europe. The changes go into effect for vehicles made after September 2009.
"Now Canadian consumers will join American car owners in shelling out thousands of dollars in repair bills because the flimsy bumpers on their passenger vehicles don't keep damage away from safety equipment and sheet metal parts in minor impacts," says Joe Nolan, Institute senior vice president.
Canada and the U.S. used to run bumper tests for passenger vehicles at the same speeds. That changed in 1982 when the United States weakened its bumper standard from a 5 mph test with a no-damage criteria to a 2.5 mph test that allows unlimited damage to the bumper system (see "Bumper standard rolled back," May 24, 1982). The Canadian government in 1983 proposed to follow its neighbor's lead but insurers, consumers, provincial and territorial governments balked so the effort was shelved. Bumper rules in both countries still don't apply to light trucks, and they don't address the problem of bumper height mismatch when SUVs, pickups, and vans collide with cars (see "Bumper rules should extend to light trucks, Institute tells NHTSA," July 1, 2008).
In justifying the change, Transport Canada cited the need to allow manufacturers the design flexibility to meet a pending global technical regulation for pedestrian safety. Nolan points out that there's no evidence that Canada's tougher bumper standard conflicted with pedestrian protection requirements. Nor is there any evidence the new standard will result in more pedestrian-friendly designs. A report from the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre in the United Kingdom suggests the absence of a relationship between pedestrian-friendly bumpers and damageability. Instead Nolan points to substantial evidence that weakening Canada's standard will lead to increased insurance claim rates and costs.
How can a Canadian car buyer find a vehicle that has good bumpers once the new rules take hold? Transport Canada points them to results of the Institute's bumper tests, plus evaluations by the Research Council for Automobile Repairs in Europe.
"Clearly Transport Canada recognizes that this rule change could lead to cars with poor bumpers," Nolan says, "but apparently regulators believe it is up to individual consumers to protect themselves from the harm the new rule allows."