Motor Vehicle Association of the U.S. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company Research Proposal

Pages: 6 (1688 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 13  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation

Motor Vehicle Association v State Farm

In modern, contemporary law, several agencies of the United States government have acted in a policing manner to ensure the safety of consumer items, electronics, and in particular, automobiles. In fact, attention to this matter has steadily reduced injury and death rates over the past two decades. Nevertheless, auto collisions are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, and estimate total of 1.2 million in 2004, or 25% of the total from all causes (Pratt, 2003). Risk compensation limits the improvements that can be made, often leading to reduced safety where one might expect the opposite. This is why standards and statues exist to protect the public.

Under the rubric of auto safety not only are items that help avoid crashes and assist drivers necessary, but crashworthy systems and devices that prevent or reduce the severity of injuries when a crash is imminent or happens have become of primary importance. There are several of these that are germane to our discussion, but for background the most important are:

Seatbelts limit the forward motion of an occupant, stretch to slow down the occupant's deceleration in a crash, and prevent occupants being ejected from the vehicle.

Airbags inflate to cushion the impact of a vehicle occupant with various parts of the vehicle's interior.

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Laminated windshields remain in one piece when impacted, preventing penetration of unbelted occupants' heads and maintaining a minimal but adequate transparency for control of the car immediately following a collision. Tempered glass side and rear windows break into granules with minimally sharp edges, rather than splintering into jagged fragments as ordinary glass does.

Crumple zones absorb and dissipate the force of a collision, displacing and diverting it away from the passenger compartment and reducing the impact force on the vehicle occupants. Vehicles will include a front, rear and maybe side crumple zones (like Volvo SIPS) too.

Side impact protection beams.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Motor Vehicle Association of the U.S. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company Assignment

Collapsible universally jointed steering columns, (with the steering system mounted behind the front axle - not in the front crumple zone), reduce the risk and severity of driver impalement on the column in a frontal crash.

Pedestrian protection systems.

Padding of the instrument panel and other interior parts of the vehicle likely to be struck by the occupants during a crash (Sivak, 2008).

Case Background -- Case number 463, U.S. 29 (1983) is titled the Motor Vehicle Manufacturer's Association vs. State Farm Mutual, before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Background to the Case -- A 1966 Federal Act, the national Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, directs that the Secretary of Transportation must issue motor vehicle safety standards that "shall be practicable, shall meet the need for motor vehicle safety, and shall be started in objective terms." Standards are to be met regarding safety in the sense that it is "reasonable, practicable, and appropriate for the particular type of motor vehicle for which it is prescribed and to the extent that such standards contribute to carrying out the purpose of [safety]" (NHTSA, 1985).

This act became quite important in any judicial findings regarding standards that had been set for automobiles. Manufacturers were held to strict standards that, over time, allowed them to retool and reengineer their newer models to meet standards that were designed to improve public safety. However, a serious issue regarding passive restraints and airbags caused a conundrum between 1977 when the Standard was issued and 1981, based on industry standards.

In essence, in 1977 a Modified Standard (#208) was issued regarding passive restraints. At that time, the NHTSA required that all vehicles produced after 1982 be equipped with airbags. The NHTSA assume that the trend, up from 1977's 60% would continue since by 1981 it became apparent that 99% of new cars would have automatic seatbelts and airbags. The NHTSA thus concluded there was no longer a basis for reliably predicting that Modified Standard 208 would lead to any significant usage of restraints, thus no longer reasonable and practical as legislation.

Upon petitions for review, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the agency acted improperly when resending the official regulation. The Court felt that the NHTSA acted upon misinformation and for reasons that stood outside the public safety issue. Because of the severity of potential safety issues, the Court further directed the NHTSA to provide increasingly clear and convincing reasons for its actions.

Court Holding -- The Court held that the "arbitrary and capricious" standard of judicial review applied to rescission of agency regulations, but erred in intensifying the scope of its review based on a lack of complete and factual information. The NHTSA did not give consideration to modifying appropriate airbag standards assuming not only an industry compliance trend, but a consumer interest issue. The idea that consumers would not find the agency credible if it changed its mind on relevant issues, said the Court, was capricious -- and "thus failed to offer the rational connection between facts and judgment required to pass muster under the standards."

Writing for the majority opinion of the Court, Justice White wrote that the automobile has given Americans unprecedented freedom to travel but has exacted a high price for the privilege of driving -- namely massive automobile accidents and insurance costs. Factual data shows that "On-the-road experience in thousands of vehicles equipped with air bags and automatic safety belts has confirmed agency estimates of the life-saving and injury-preventing benefits of such systems. When all cars are equipped with automatic crash protection systems, each year an estimated 9,000 more lives will be saved, and tens of thousands of serious injuries will be prevented." Thus, the NHTSA's comment that was no longer able to find that restraint systems would save lives was simply an error in judgment. Indeed, the NHTSA cannot change its mind in an arbitrary manner based on the current administration in power; instead, the public must have a consistency of standards and is therefore ordered to support any conclusions with the appropriate and verifiable standard of research and oversight (463 U.S. 29 (1983).

Reflection -- It seems odd that an agency that was created specifically for the purpose of oversight in public safety regarding transportation issues would believe that research it had participated in was no longer valid based on a purported trend in industry thinking. In addition, the idea that data changed in a few years without any substantive new information is, quite frankly, as Justice White noted, not at all credible. One must ask, then, what prompted the change in policy at the NHTSB?

An airbag is a relatively simple safety device -- it is an occupant restraint consisting of a flexible envelope that rapidly inflates during a collision and prevents the occupants from hitting interior objects (steering wheel or window). It was invented in 1952, but did not become available in the United States until the mid-1970 when seat belt usage rates were quite low. The development of airbags coincided with an international interest in automobile safety legislation. Some safety experts advocated a performance-based occupant protection standard rather than a standard mandating a particular technical solution, which could rapidly become outdated and might not be a cost-effective approach. As countries successively mandated seat belt restraints, there was less emphasis placed on other designs for several decades. Manufacturers emphasize that an airbag is not, and cannot be an alternative to seatbelts. They emphasize that they are only supplemental to a seatbelt. Hence the commonly used term "Supplemental Restraint System" or SRS. It is vitally important that drivers and passengers are aware of this. In the majority of cases of death caused by air bags, seat belts were not worn (Evans, 2004, 309-10).

The official story said that in July 1984 the NHTSB amended the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to insist that automobiles be produced with passive restraints.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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