A quotation in yesterday's Washington Post was incorrectly attributed to Ray Peck Jr., head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The statement that the federal standard for front bumbers on cars "is cost-effective to the consumer" should have been attributed to Barry Felice, associate NHTSA administrator for planning and evaluation. In addition, Peck said he testified at a congressional hearing that retooling for a new bumper standard "might even be a net cost" to the auto industry, rather than a "net loss," as he was quoted as saying. Finally, The Post incorrectly reported that a cost analysis on the front bumper was contrary to information developed in a NHTSA study released in April.The study contained that information.
One of the Reagan administration's proposals for helping the automobile industry came under attack yesterday from insurance and consumer interests, and they found some support from, of all places, the administration.
At issue is an administration proposal to weaken the federal standard for auto bumpers. Insurance and Consumers Union officials told a congressional hearing that the proposal is sure to boost insurance premiums and repair bills for drivers.
Further, Ray Peck Jr., head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said his agency's research shows that the present federal standard for front bumpers "is cost-effective to the consumner" and that retooling for a weekend standard "might even be a net loss" to the automobile industry. For rear bumpers, however, reducing the required protection might be cost effective, he said.
That front-bumper analysis is contrary to information developed in a NHTSA study released in April. That study, Peck said yesterday, did not consider the cost of insurance premiums and repair bills. A new bumper rule, he said, will consider both factors.
The testimony, before Rep. Timothy E. Wirth's (D-Colo.) House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, came as NHTSA is completing its work on that new bumper standard. In view of Peck's remarks it is not clear what the proposal will be. When the administration announced on April 6 its many-faceted plan to free the auto industry from burdensome regulations, one of those burdens was the bumper standard.
The existing standard, which went into effect in 1974, requires bumpers that can protect cars in 5-mph crashes. The save-the-industry proposal would have reduced the requirement to 2.5-mph crashes (about walking speed) or have eliminated it.
Donald P. McHugh, of State Farm Insurance, told the subcommittee that "Over the last decade, the standard has served to eliminate entirely hundreds of thousands of small claims that our policyholders would otherwise be filing."
State Farm's data, he said, showed that for older cars not subject to the standard, "Almost half of the damage claims reported to State Farm involved damage in frontcenter crashes at . . . speeds of 5 mph or less." In other words, had those automobiles been fitted with today's bumpers, the claims never would have been filed.
Brian O'Neill, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, presented slides and films showing old and new automobiles running into walls at 5 mph. A pre-bumper-standard 1972 Ford Pinto suffered $272 in damage on a front-end crash and $470 on a rear-end crash. A 1974 Pinto, subject to the 5 mph standard for both bumpers, ran into the wall and was undamaged. Ford's 1981 Escort is escaping damage at even 10 mph, O'Neill said.
Mark Silbergeld, of Consumers Union, said that "two of the nation's largest insurers" had told Consumer Reports that "their premiums would go up 10 and 15 percent, respectively, if the bumper standards were dropped."
David Martin, director of safety and engineering for General Motors, listened to the testimony, then disagreed, in an inteview, with the logical conclusion that follows. "We have done a number of studies," he said, "and we believe that 2.5 mph is of greater net benefit to the consumer than 5 mph."
The lower standard, he said, would save consumers money because lighter bumpers would hold down the cost of the automobile and be cheaper to repair or replace. In addition, he said, they would result in lower gasoline bills.
The stated purpose of the administration's proposed bumper change, along with all the othe proposed changes for automobiles, is to reduce regulation, lower the price of cars and help the auto industry. How will the public benefit, NHTSA's Peck was asked?
"Consumers will benefit directly by lower car prices," Peck replied. "Although we do not expect car prices to decline, in absolute dollars, we do anticipate that car prices will increase more slowly than they otherwise would without our actions."