As part of an effort to address a growing global health threat, the first international auto safety regulation will be announced this week at a news conference in Geneva, according to the New York Times
on Nov. 15.The regulation, aimed at improving locks so that car doors are less likely to fly open during accidents, is somewhat mundane. More significant is that it represents the first step in a six-year-long effort to standardize auto regulation among 22 nations, including the United States, Canada, China, Japan, Australia, and members of the European Union. "We have 1.2 million people killed every year in the world," said Stephen Kratzke, associate administrator for rule making at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in a telephone interview from Geneva. "We think this is a significant step in moving to address that with a comprehensive vision."Auto safety has become a growing global concern because of booming car sales in developing countries including China and India, which have far higher fatality rates than the leading industrial nations, as speeding cars proliferate on rural roads. The World Health Organization projected in a report released this year that traffic accidents would become the third-leading cause of death and disability by 2020, up from ninth now. The victims are often young adults.The effort to standardize regulations across the major auto markets is being coordinated by a committee set up under United Nations auspices after a 1998 agreement to address traffic safety. Top safety experts from the participating nations met about half a dozen times in the last year to formulate minimum standards for door strength. "None of us had major upgrades to this since the 1970's," Kratzke said, "so it seemed like a good opportunity to work together collectively." Keeping doors closed during accidents reduces the chance that occupants will be thrown from a vehicle and seriously hurt or killed. The new standards will particularly bolster the testing of sliding doors in minivans, requiring them to stay closed even when subjected to a testing force of about 3,800 lbs. from the inside.Next on the international agenda are matters like making vehicles less harmful to pedestrians in accidents and devising new rules for motorcycle brakes and head restraints. The auto industry strongly backs this effort because it will be substantially cheaper to design cars to meet one set of regulations. "We are very optimistic about it," said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes most of the major automakers. "We hope this global safety regulation will be the first of many."Still, Kratzke said it was unlikely that there would be completely global auto standards in the foreseeable future. "We think there will always be some hard situations where countries have differences in their fleets," he said, "so we wouldn't want to suggest that every standard will be the same. But we do think many of the standards will be harmonized and will be global."