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Status Report, Vol. 38, No. 3 | March 15, 2003 Subscribe

Advanced airbag phase-in gets pushed back slightly

The requirements for phasing in advanced airbags have been relaxed somewhat. Specifically, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reduced the number of vehicles obligated to meet the requirements during the first year.

Advanced airbags are designed to reduce injury risk for out-of-position occupants while, at the same time, preserving the safety benefits of airbags. Features include two-stage inflators, which vary force levels with crash severity, plus suppression or other systems to reduce risks for out-of-position infants, children, and smaller drivers.

The original phase-in requirements, announced in 2000, called for 35 percent of new cars marketed from September 2003 through August 2004 to come equipped with advanced airbags (see Status Report special issue: new federal airbag rule, June 17, 2000). After automakers petitioned NHTSA, pointing out that suppliers cannot meet the demand for parts necessary to comply, the agency reduced the requirement from 35 percent to 20 percent of new cars. The rest of the scheduled phase in remains in place, with the percentage of cars increasing to 65 in September 2004 and then to 100 percent the following year.

During these phase-in years (September 2003 through 2005), automakers must certify that advanced airbag systems pass a battery of tests conducted with a variety of dummies. Additional requirements begin in September 2007, when increasing percentages of advanced airbags must be certified to pass a 35 mph rigid-barrier test with belted male dummies — up from the previous 30 mph test speed. Initially 35 percent of cars must be equipped with airbags that meet the more rigorous test. This rises to 65 percent the second year and then to 100 percent starting September 2009.

Airbag graphic

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