AAJ Challenges NHTSA's School Bus Safety Rule; Anticipates Long-Delayed Roof Crush Standard Next Week

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AAJ Challenges NHTSA's School Bus Safety Rule; Anticipates Long-Delayed Roof Crush Standard Next Week 

For Immediate Release: December 4, 2008

Contact: Jennifer Fuson
202.965.3500, ext. 8369

AAJ Challenges NHTSA’s School Bus Safety Rule; Anticipates Long-Delayed Roof Crush Standard Next Week

Preemption Clause in Rule Could Grant Vehicle Manufacturers Blanket Immunity from Lawsuits

Washington, DC — A final rule put forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) doesn’t go far enough to curb injuries associated with the nearly 2,000 school bus accidents each year, according to the American Association for Justice (AAJ).  The association will file a petition for reconsideration with NHTSA tomorrow, challenging the agency’s final rule on school bus safety.

NHTSA’s final rule requires seatbelts for small school buses but only recommends seatbelts for larger school buses, fearing adding seatbelts on the larger vehicles would limit capacity and be cost prohibitive.  Larger buses will be required to increase the seat back height four inches, just a fraction of the cost estimated for adding seat belts.  The rule also includes preemption language that attempts to grant blanket immunity to the manufacturing industry that makes buses and their parts.  The language would make it difficult to seek restitution through the civil justice system for injuries and fatalities associated with school bus accidents according to AAJ.  

“NHTSA continues to allow corporate responsibility to take a back seat to children’s safety,” said AAJ President Les Weisbrod.  “There is no reason to include preemption language that attempts to limit consumers’ civil justice rights in a rule about school bus safety except to give corporations yet another handout.  Our children’s safety should be a first priority in school bus standards, instead NHTSA included an escape clause for corporate responsibility.”

Next week NHTSA is expected to release a final rule on roof crush resistance standards after years of study and delay.  The current standard has been in effect since 1973, well before SUVs, prone to rollovers, were a popular consumer transportation option. 

NHTSA was required to deliver a new roof crush standard to Congress by July 1, 2008, but was ordered by Congress to strengthen their proposed rule because it did not significantly reduce loss of life and prevent injury.  NHTSA asked for an ext. until December 15, 2008. 

The timing is significant, because new Administrations generally seek to stay any final rules that have been put forth 60 days prior to the start of the term.  The Bush administration had asked all final rules be complete by Nov. 1, 2008.  A final rule put out December 15, 2008, could be subject to such a stay. 

“On their way out the door, the Bush bureaucrats, continue to do all they can to try to take away people's rights to access the civil justice system,” added Weisbrod.  “We have seen this time and time again—school bus safety, seat belts, drugs and medical devices—the Administration thinks corporations can do no harm.”

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