Head Protection Rule for Ambulances Covers Front Seats Only

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Sept. 5 gave manufacturers two more years, until Sept. 1, 2009, to meet passenger head protection requirements in altered vehicles and vehicles built in two or more stages. NHTSA's final rule also limits the requirements to the front-seat positions in these vehicles, which include ambulances and motor homes. NHTSA decided to exempt a group of multi-stage vehicles that are delivered to the final-stage manufacturer without an occupant compartment.

The rule affects 49 CFR Part 571. The compliance date had been Sept. 1, 2007. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association and the National Truck Equipment Association had petitioned the agency to permanently exempt these vehicle types from the requirements; members of the two associations buy incomplete vehicles from major manufacturers and finish them as specialty vehicles or alter completed vehicles prior to their first retail sale.

Limiting the scope of the requirements to front seats only will have "a very small impact on safety," NHTSA said; occupant areas in motor homes and ambulances that are more than 24 inches behind the driver's seating position are already exempt, and NHTSA is halving the distance for which the requirements apply to 12 inches. Applying the requirements to the front seats will result in an estimated 16-22 fewer annual fatalities, but the rear seat benefits were estimated to be less than one death per year, the agency reasoned.

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