[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 161 (Tuesday, August 21, 2007)]
[Pages 46705-46706]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E7-16408]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2006-26283; Notice 2]

Britax Child Safety, Inc.; Denial of Petition for Decision of 
Inconsequential Noncompliance

    Britax Child Safety, Inc. (Britax) has determined that certain 
child restraint systems that it produced in 2006 do not comply with 
paragraph S5.1.1 of 49 CFR 571.213, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety 
Standard (FMVSS) No. 213, Child Restraint Systems. Britax has filed an 
appropriate report pursuant to 49 CFR Part 573, ``Defect and 
Noncompliance Responsibility and Reports.'' Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 
30118(d) and 30120(h), Britax also has petitioned for a determination 
that this noncompliance is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. 
Notice of receipt of the petition was published, with a 30-day public 
comment period, on December 15, 2006 in the Federal Register (71 FR 
75609). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 
received one comment from Advocates for Highway Safety (Advocates). To 
view the petition and all supporting documents, go to: http://dms.dot.gov/search/searchFormSimple.cfm and enter Docket No. NHTSA-
    For further information on this decision, contact Mr. Zachary R. 
Fraser, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, NHTSA, telephone (202) 
366-5754, facsimile (202) 366-7002.
    Affected are a total of approximately 34,355 Marathon Child 
Restraint Systems (models E9L06, E9W06, and E906) produced by Britax 
between May 23 and July 28, 2006. Britax recommends that the Marathon 
be used forward-facing for children weighing between 20 and 65 pounds, 
and with the tether at all times. FMVSS No. 213 specifies that a child 
restraint recommended for use above 50 pounds be tested with a 49 CFR 
Part 572 Subpart S dummy. The Subpart S dummy is a Hybrid III 6 year-
old dummy with weights added to the spine. Also, paragraph S5(d) 
specifies that each child restraint system tested with a 49 CFR Part 
572 Subpart S dummy need not meet paragraph S5.1.2, Injury Criteria and 
paragraph S5.1.3, Occupant Excursion of FMVSS No. 213. In addition, 
paragraph S5.1.1 of FMVSS No. 213 requires that the child restraint 
system exhibit no complete separation of any load bearing structural 
element during dynamic testing. When the noncompliant child restraint 
systems were tested with the weighted 6 year-old dummy, the top tether 
hook opened and released from the top tether anchor. Britax has 
corrected the problem that caused the tether hook to release so that it 
will not be repeated in future production.
    Britax believes that the noncompliance is inconsequential to motor 
vehicle safety and that no corrective action is warranted. Britax 
states that the system has ``excellent biomechanical performance * * * 
even with the opening of the system's top tether hook.'' Britax says 
that the systems ``exceed expectation with head excursion well below 
the limit for products in which this performance is actually 
measured,'' even though the noncompliant systems are not required to 
meet head excursion limits. Britax also points out that there was a 
lower HIC and lower chest acceleration with the top tether hook open 
than when not open, and ``[t]hese results demonstrate that the opening 
of the top tether dissipates some of the occupant energy and thereby 
reduc[es] overall biomechanical injury measures.''
    Britax concludes that the open top tether hook is inconsequential 
to the system working. Britax states, ``The biomechanical results and 
performance of the other structural components of the Marathon prove 
that the system [emphasis in original] does what is it intended to do--
that is, save children's lives.''
    Advocates commented by expressing their concern about the potential 
negative impacts on public confidence that failures of this type in 
actual use and an agency decision granting inconsequential 
noncompliance could have on the rate of tether use. Advocates also 
asserted that publicity that may accompany the failure of an upper 
tether could have a negative impact on consumer confidence and 
complicate the agency's efforts to educate the public regarding the use 
of tethers.

NHTSA Decision

    In reaching our decision, NHTSA has carefully reviewed the subject 
petition, the Advocates' comments and a similar petition (which Britax 
attempts to distinguish from its petition) that was submitted to NHTSA 
in 2002 by another child restraint systems manufacturer, Dorel Juvenile 
Group (Dorel). (To view the Dorel petition and all supporting 
documents, go to: NHTSA Docket No. NHTSA-2002-13014.)
    As part of its reasoning, Britax argued that because the Britax 
Marathon system displayed ``excellent biomechanical performance * * * 
even with the opening of the system's top tether hook'' during the 
NHTSA testing that the noncompliance is inconsequential to motor 
vehicle safety. NHTSA does not agree with this line of reasoning. As 
Britax acknowledges, even though the Britax Marathon system met other 
dynamic test requirements, it did not meet paragraph S5.1.1(a) of FMVSS 
No. 213 because the system's top tether hook opened and released from 
the top tether anchorage. The agency has consistently viewed tether 
strap separation as a load bearing structural failure. A tether strap 
structural failure is similar to vehicle LATCH anchorage failure; a 
failure of either one will not provide full occupant protection for 
children. In requiring upper tethers and anchors, NHTSA noted that, 
``the tether is especially effective at reducing head excursion and the 
potential for head impacts.'' 64 FR 10786. By definition, the child 
restraint anchorage system consists of both the lower anchorages and 
the tether. 49 CFR 571.225 S3. This line of reasoning is consistent 
with NHTSA's decision to deny the previously referenced Dorel petition. 
Here, because the seat was recommended for weights greater than 50 
pounds, the injury criteria applicable in other situations did not 
apply. This makes structural integrity all the more important. As 
Britax itself notes (petition at page 2), where the injury criteria do 
not apply, ``there is a reliance on the structural integrity of the 
restraint to ensure safety of the child occupant * * *''
    The agency has taken enforcement action for a similar failure. In 
2001, the agency notified Britax of a potential noncompliance due to 
the detachment of a tether strap during dynamic testing of one of its 
child restraint models. Britax initiated a recall campaign to provide 
owners of the affected model with repair kits. In its current petition, 
Britax stated it did not believe that the failure that resulted in the 
2001 recall should be compared to the current failure. Britax's 
argument for this is that the 2001 failure had the potential for 
increased forward movement of the head and therefore potential for 
exceeding head excursion limits whereas the current Marathon ``exceeds 
its biomechanical requirements and expectations.'' We disagree with 
this reasoning and believe that the Marathon, while not required to 
meet a

[[Page 46706]]

head excursion requirement when tested with the weighted 6 year-old 
dummy, also has the potential for increased forward movement of the 
head in excess of the required limit in the event of a top tether 
failure. We note that, as the Britax explanation makes clear, the head 
excursion limit (720 mm) was exceeded in one out of the three tests the 
company performed. In that test, the tether hook opened. In the other 
two tests performed by Britax, the tether hook did not open and the 
head excursions were substantially less. Furthermore, lower 
biomechanical responses would naturally occur as a result of increased 
excursion due to a top tether failure.
    Finally, NHTSA agrees with Advocates that granting this petition 
would send a mixed message to the public regarding the use of tethers 
and would be contradictory to NHTSA's mission to promote greater use of 
LATCH and tether.
    In consideration of the foregoing, NHTSA has decided that the 
petitioner has not met its burden of persuasion that the noncompliance 
described is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. Accordingly, 
Britax's petition is hereby denied, and the petitioner must notify 
according to 49 U.S.C. 30118 and remedy according to 49 U.S.C. 30120.

    Authority: 49 U.S.C. 30118, 30120; delegations of authority at 
49 CFR 1.50 and 501.8.

    Issued on: August 15, 2007.
Daniel C. Smith,
Associate Administrator for Enforcement.
 [FR Doc. E7-16408 Filed 8-20-07; 8:45 am]