When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided last month to relax the federal bumper standard, insurance groups were among the first to protest. Under the proposal, bumpers would have to be able to withstand a crash at 2.5 mph, rather than the current standard of 5 mph. Now the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released a new poll by Opinion Research Corp. that shows overwhelming public support for the current standard. According to the poll, 71 percent prefer the 5 mph standard and 22 percent the 2.5 mph standard; the rest had no preference. With poll in hand, the insurance instutute has petitioned NHTSA to reconsider its decision. Steve Zaidman of NHTSA's office of automotive ratings said the agency will review the petition and then comment publicly on it.

The new standards are scheduled to go into effect July 6. The automobile industry, which supported the change overwhelmingly, said the 2.5 mph standard was more reasonable, would cut the cost of a car by $20 to $40 and would save gas. But the insurance industry and consumer groups argued that the new standards would allow bumpers to be 75 percent weaker in their ability to prevent damage to cars. The insurance industry has predicted that insurance collision coverage costs will increase by 10 percent to 20 percent if the change goes through.