Congress Ordered Regulators To Update Car Seat Strength Requirements, And NHTSA Just Didn't Do It

Screenshot: CBS News
Screenshot: CBS News

When the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed in late 2021, it got a lot of attention for funding electric vehicle charging, high-speed rail, bridge maintenance and a lot of other basic infrastructure needs. What didn’t get much attention was a provision requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to update seat strength requirements in cars. NHTSA had two years to complete that task, and, as CBS News reports, it simply didn’t do it.

While new cars are certainly safer than they were in the past, the current regulation dictating how securely your seat needs to be bolted to the floor of your car dates back to 1967. And unfortunately, a 2015 CBS News investigation found that seats have a nasty habit of breaking loose in a rear-end collision. Those seats then fly backward, putting rear passengers at risk. At least 50 children reportedly die every year as a result of this issue.

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Lawmakers aren’t the only ones upset that NHTSA never got around to doing what it was legally required to do. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy told CBS News, “It shouldn’t require an act of Congress to get them to act on regulation. We shouldn’t have to wait for people to die to take action. There are recommendations on recommendations upon recommendations that the NTSB has issued over and over and over again to NHTSA and others. There hasn’t been action. That tells me you’re not serious about safety. So get serious.”

You would think that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would be similarly upset, but apparently, he’s totally cool with NHTSA not doing what it’s legally required to do, even after two years.

“When it comes to safety, the one thing that matters more than doing something in time for a congressional deadline is doing it right,” he told CBS News. “NHTSA has to make tough choices every day, because literally everything they do involves life safety. They have limited resources to deal with dozens of overlapping requirements and mandates.”

To be clear, though, this doesn’t mean that seats haven’t gotten any stronger since 1967. Automakers have been exceeding the legal requirements for years, and Kia, for example, updated the Carnival when IIHS testing showed that its second-row seats could come loose in a crash.

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