Vehicle Safety Standard Update: A Case Study in a Regulatory Debate Using Statistical Models

In the fall of 2007, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued a proposal to change the safety standard for roof crush of new vehicles under 6,000 lbs. to be sold in the United States. This standard is called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216 (or briefly FMVSS 216). As with all federally proposed changes in vehicle standards, this proposal was posted on the website in order to solicit feedback from the general public. An important part of NHTSA’s rationale for the proposed change relied upon a set of statistical models built using actual rollover crashes experienced across the U.S. The statistical models described severe head, neck and face injuries due to roof contact during rollover crashes. The federal researchers used the statistical models to present their case that roof intrusion increased the risk of occupant injuries and death. They argued that stronger vehicle roofs would maintain occupant survival space during a rollover and consequently improve occupant safety.

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