10 Senators, including Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, seek information about security improvements prompted by a CBS News investigation

Ten US senators are asking for an update on a series of car safety improvements called for in the landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law a year ago today.

The senator’s letter inquires about the status of a total of 10 safety improvements called for in the year-long Infrastructure Act and comes as fatal auto accidents hit a 16-year high in 2021.

One of the improvements mentioned in the bill was the introduction of a 24-month period for auto safety agencies to propose updates to a 55-year-old federal safety standard for vehicle seats. A 2015 investigation by CBS News revealed that the 1967 Strength Standard means that the front seats of vehicles can easily collapse in rear-end collisions, putting children in the back seats at an increased risk of injury or death.

“Too many times regulators have crawled through amber lights or stopped at red lights when passing new security measures. By passing historic, bipartisan infrastructure legislation, Congress gave NHTSA the green light to step on the gas pedal to reduce motor vehicle fatalities,” the senators wrote in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today.

Senators Ed Markey (DMA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led the Senate effort to change the seat tightness standard. They are joined by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D- RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) in the letter to Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson.

The federal vehicle seat standard could put families at risk


“Far too many children have lost their lives because of NHTSA’s outdated seatback safety standard. We urge NHTSA to quickly modernize the seatback safety standard and put an end to these preventable deaths,” said Markey.

In the course of the 2015 investigation, CBS News found crash test after crash test that showed what can happen when a seat collapses: the driver is thrown into the back seat, where children sit often.

However, the reporting revealed that all the seats in this type of failed hit rear-end collisions or exceeded the five-hundred-year-old federal strength standard.

In independent testing, CBS News found that even a banquet chair could pass the only test required by the standard — attaching a brace over a seat, attaching to a winch, and being pulled.

In the early 1990s, NHTSA’s own researchers warned the agency about seatback collapses, giving examples of serious injury or death.

And automakers have long known it’s a problem. During a 1996 testimony, a General Motors engineer said the automaker had begun tying down its test dummies because they were “expensive” and the likelihood of losing them was “quite high.” Another filing with a GM engineer found the cost to fix the problem was “on the order of a dollar or so” per seat.

NHTSA has posted online that it plans to solicit public comments on updating Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 207, which addresses seat strength — a necessary step in the development of new regulations.

“Safety is NHTSA’s top priority, and the bipartisan Infrastructure Act provides NHTSA with an historic opportunity to make dramatic improvements in road safety,” NHTSA said in a statement to CBS News. “The bipartisan Infrastructure Act provides numerous guidelines to the agency related to vehicle safety, including those related to seat back strength.”

“We are therefore urging NHTSA to quickly enact important safety regulations into law and reverse this worrying trend in motor vehicle fatalities,” the senators wrote.


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