[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 231 (Thursday, December 1, 2016)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 86684-86687]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-28126]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 571

[Docket No. NHTSA-2016-0054]

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.

ACTION: Denial of petition for rulemaking.


SUMMARY: This document denies a petition for rulemaking, submitted by 
Ms. Scheryn Bennett, requesting that the National Traffic Safety 
Administration (NHTSA) require every vehicle to be equipped with an 
emergency glass breaking tool. The data available to the agency shows 
there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the actual number of 
occupants that may have died due solely to drowning while trapped in an 
immersed vehicle. The potential effectiveness of such a tool to 
successfully aid an occupant's safe exit from an immersed vehicle is 
also not known. In the absence of a requirement that each vehicle have 
a glass breaking tool, nothing prevents vehicle manufacturers from 
providing a tool or other means to allow vehicle evacuation during 
immersion. Additionally, consumers can purchase their own tool and 
locate it in the vehicle where they would be likely to access it in an 

DATES: This denial is effective as of December 1, 2016.

ADDRESSES: Office of Crashworthiness Standards, National Highway 
Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, 
DC 20590.

    For Non-Legal Issues: Mr. James Myers, Office of Crashworthiness 
Standards, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New 
Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590, Telephone: (202) 493-0031, 
Facsimile: (202) 493-2739.
    For Legal Issues: Ms. Rebecca Yoon, Office of Chief Counsel, 
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue 
SE., Washington, DC 20590, Telephone: (202) 366-2992.


Table of Contents

I. Background
II. Petition
III. Analysis of Petition
    A. Preliminary Analysis of Real World Data
    B. Potential Effectiveness of Tool
    C. Costs Effectiveness
    D. Response to Standard Equipment Statement
IV. Conclusion

I. Background

    The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (``Safety Act,'' 
49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq.) authorizes NHTSA to issue safety standards for 
new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. The 
prescribed motor vehicle safety standards must be practicable, meet the 
need for motor vehicle safety, and be stated in objective terms. NHTSA 
does not endorse any vehicles or items of equipment. Further, NHTSA 
does not approve or certify vehicles or equipment. Instead, the Safety 
Act establishes a ``self-certification'' process under which each 
manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all 
applicable safety standards. NHTSA has not established any standards 
pertaining to an emergency glass breaking tool, nor has the agency ever 
established a requirement that they must be provided with any vehicle.

II. Petition

    On January 22, 2014, Ms. Scheryn Bennett, (henceforth referred to 
as Ms. Bennett), requested that NHTSA require every vehicle to be 
equipped with an ``emergency window breaker.'' Ms. Bennett cited the 
drowning deaths of a mother and her two minor children during an August 
2011 flash flood in Pittsburgh, PA, and wrote that ``evidence showed 
they [the victims] attempted to kick out the windows in their 
minivan.'' Ms. Bennett expressed a concern for vehicle occupants to 
exit a passenger vehicle via a window after the vehicle has become 
trapped in water such that the water interrupts the vehicle electrical 
system, rendering the power windows inoperable. Additionally, Ms. 
Bennett contended that ``[j]ust as a spare tire and jack are standard 
in all vehicles so should an emergency window breaker.''

III. Analysis of Petition

    As a general matter, any proposed safety standard issued by NHTSA 
must meet the need for motor vehicle safety. Typically, we assess 
whether a standard would meet the need for motor vehicle safety by 
analyzing the real-world safety problem (which is the ``safety need''), 
and then analyzing how well the safety problem can be addressed by the 
standard we are proposing (whether the safety need is met by the 
standard). It is challenging for the agency to justify a new regulation 
based only on an

[[Page 86685]]

assumption that a particular vehicle safety feature or piece of 
equipment has potential for reducing injury or death in some crash 

A. Preliminary Analysis of Real World Data

    Ms. Bennett provided a newspaper article reporting on the death of 
a mother and her two children that drowned in their minivan during a 
severe flash flood event. We searched for additional data that could 
support the existence of a safety need which could be addressed by an 
emergency window breaking tool. NHTSA's data review for this petition 
examined the information available in the agency's Fatality Analysis 
Reporting System (FARS) and Not-in-Traffic Surveillance (NiTS) 
databases. We also examined vehicle related cataclysmic drowning 
incident information available from the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Web site.
    NHTSA's FARS database is a nationwide census of yearly data 
regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle traffic crashes. 
However, it does not capture fatalities that occur directly as a result 
of a cataclysm, such as flooding. An example of this would be a motor 
vehicle swept away while a bridge the vehicle was crossing is washed 
out during a hurricane or flood. Accidents related to a cataclysm, but 
occurring after the cataclysm has ended, would be traffic crashes and 
would be in FARS. Such an example could be where a motor vehicle is 
driven into water after a hurricane or flood where a bridge was washed 
    In the 2011 technical paper Drowning Deaths in Motor Vehicle 
Traffic Accidents,\1\ NHTSA reviewed data available in FARS and linked 
it to Multiple Cause of Death (MCoD) data from the Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention (CDC). The information indicated that drowning 
was involved in approximately 1 percent of the average annual motor 
vehicle occupant traffic fatalities for the time period reviewed for 
the paper (or 384 motor vehicle occupant traffic fatalities annually). 
NHTSA further analyzed the data for indications of possible occupant 
trauma that would indicate the fatally injured occupant(s) could have 
been unable to self-evacuate from their vehicle because of their 
physical condition at the time of the vehicle immersion. These included 
potentially incapacitating crash scenarios such as vehicle rollovers, 
impacts with fixed objects, alcohol levels at or above the legal limit, 
and occupant ejection cases. Removing incidents involving vehicle 
rollovers and alcohol/drug usage from the above 384 fatalities yielded 
an annual average of 81 crash fatalities involving accidental drowning. 
We further excluded events in which the vehicle struck a fixed object 
prior to entering the water. Based upon this analysis, there were 28 
drowning fatalities that were caused by crashes where vehicle immersion 
or unknown factors were the first harmful event.\2\ These 28 
individuals are the group most likely to have been in a position to 
self-evacuate from their immersed vehicle. However, the database 
details are insufficient to conclusively determine which of these 
fatalities occurred solely due to drowning and not factors such as 
physical trauma, seat belt issues, confusion, or other unknown issues, 
and thus may have survived if an emergency glass breaking tool had been 
available in the vehicle.

    \1\ ``Drowning Deaths In Motor Vehicle Traffic Accidents''; Rory 
Austin; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 22nd 
Experimental Safety of Vehicles Conference, Washington, DC, Paper 
Number 11-0170, 2011. (http://www-esv.nhtsa.dot.gov/Proceedings/22/files/22ESV-000170.pdf)
    \2\ Ibid, Table 7 records an annual average of 106 fatalities 
for immersion events with no rollover. Per FARS database inquiry, 25 
of these fatalities had BAC .08 or higher (105 minus 25 equals 81). 
Of the remaining fatalities, 53 were from incidents where the 
vehicle collided with a fixed object prior to entering the water. 
This leaves 28 average annual crash fatalities possibly due solely 
to drowning.

    NHTSA also examined the information available in our NiTS database. 
The NiTS database tracks nontraffic crashes which occur off of public 
roads in locations such as private roads, driveways, parking lots, and 
undeveloped areas. Unfortunately, the system does not have any linked 
mortality data, which prevents a similar analysis to the one for 
traffic fatalities using FARS. Furthermore, while the database can list 
a most harmful event of immersion when applicable, the results 
previously presented above from the technical paper Drowning Deaths in 
Motor Vehicle Traffic Accidents \3\ indicate that this variable does 
not provide a good proxy for counting drowning deaths. Additionally, 
the event details available are insufficient to determine if the 
individuals died inside or outside of their vehicles. Thus, this 
database could not provide data supporting a safety need for this 

    \3\ Ibid., page 7.

    NHTSA also researched flood related fatality information available 
on the NOAA Web site. The NOAA Web site uses data obtained from the 
CDC. Reviewing the listed event circumstances for only fatalities in 
which the persons died inside \4\ a motor vehicle, there were on 
average 34 people annually that died inside their vehicles for the 
years 2010-2014.\5\ The information available on the NOAA Web site does 
not permit an evaluation into possible escape methods that may have 
benefitted these individuals, which makes it difficult to use this 
information to establish a safety need. It is further not possible to 
determine the extent to which there is an overlap in the fatality count 
between the 28 FARS fatalities and the 34 NOAA fatalities of people 
dying each year inside their vehicles during motor vehicle water 
immersion incidents. Neither is it possible to determine whether these 
people had compromised physical conditions due to event induced trauma 
or whether unknown physical barriers such as event damaged vehicle 
systems prevented them from escaping their vehicle interiors prior to 
drowning. NHTSA's review of the available information did not provide 
data to support the safety need listed in Ms. Bennett's petition. The 
information does not reveal whether the people died in these accidents 
due solely to drowning or from some other cause. Because it cannot be 
determined exactly how these people died, it is challenging to develop 
specific safety recommendations that could prevent this type of 

    \4\ The NOAA data lists fatalities for people that escaped their 
trapped vehicle as a vehicle related fatality. The NOAA data also 
lists ATV and horse and buggy in the vehicle related category. These 
fatalities were excluded from our analysis since an emergency glass 
breaking tool would likely not have helped these people.
    \5\ The NOAA information lists the following in-vehicle 
fatalities for vehicles trapped in floodwaters: 2010 44 fatalities; 
2011 60 fatalities; 2012 9 fatalities; 2013 31 fatalities; and 2014 
24 fatalities.

B. Potential Effectiveness of Tool

    Multiple types of glass breaking tools are commercially available 
for consumers to purchase. The tools can be attached to a key chain, 
attached to a seat belt, mounted in the vehicle interior, or stored in 
a convenient location within the vehicle interior. These tools are 
intended to quickly and efficiently break the tempered glass \6\ 
material of a passenger vehicle's side window in order to create a 
vehicle emergency egress location. Currently-available glass breaking 
tools may be

[[Page 86686]]

quite capable of vacating tempered glass from a window opening.

    \6\ Per ANSI/SAE Z26.1-1996 the term ``tempered glass'' means a 
single piece of specially treated sheet, plate, or float glass 
possessing mechanical strength substantially higher than annealed 
glass. When broken at any point the entire piece breaks into small 
pieces that have relatively dull edges as compared to those of 
broken pieces of annealed glass.

    However, the glass breaking tools will not quickly and efficiently 
break those passenger vehicle side windows constructed with laminated 
glass \7\ material.\8\ The capability of glass breaking tools to break 
plastic glazing materials permitted for use in motor vehicles by FMVSS 
No. 205 is also unknown. Information on the percentage of passenger 
vehicles with side or rear windows constructed of laminated glass or 
plastic glazing materials is not collected by the agency. An 
examination of information available from the Enhanced Protective Glass 
Automotive Association indicates at least four dozen passenger vehicle 
models may have laminated glass material at vehicle locations other 
than the front windshield.\9\ These vehicles tend to be lower volume, 
luxury models. Even in vehicles with laminated glass in side windows, 
there may be other windows with tempered glass, such as the rear window 
or potentially a sunroof. Drivers and occupants would need to not only 
know which windows are breakable by the emergency glass breaking tool 
and which are not, but would also need to be prepared to respond 
accordingly as their vehicle is filling with water.

    \7\ Per ANSI/SAE Z26.1-1996 the term ``laminated glass'' means 
two or more pieces of sheet, plate, or float glass bonded together 
by an intervening layer or layers of plastic material. It will crack 
or break under sufficient impact, but the pieces of glass tend to 
adhere to the plastic. If a hole is produced, the edges are likely 
to be less jagged than would be the case with ordinary annealed 
    \8\ ``Type of Glass in Your Car's Windows Could Change Escape 
Plan''; Deanna Dewberry, News 5 NBCDFW.com; May 6, 2013 (2014 NBC 
Universal Media, LLC.) http://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/Type-of-Glass-in-Your-Cars-Windows-Could-Change-Escape-Plan-206353031.html; 
last accessed May 15, 2015.
    \9\ ``Enhanced Protective Glass Applications''; Enhanced 
Protective Glass Automotive Association; http://www.epgaa.com/?page_id=1673; last accessed May 15, 2015.

    There are other concerns related to the potential effectiveness of 
a requirement for such a tool beyond knowing which vehicle windows can 
or cannot be broken with the tool. First, it is not clear to the agency 
that a vehicle driver or passenger would be aware of the existence of 
such a device, its location, or how and when it should be used without 
additional information being provided. It is unclear whether 
information in the owner's manual would be sufficient to properly 
educate the vehicle occupants as to the existence of the device and its 
use. It is reasonable to assume the device would need to be located 
within the occupant compartment. However, the agency questions how 
likely it would be for the tool to be used if the tool was hidden away 
in the glove compartment or other non-visible location, or whether the 
tool would need to always be visible and within reach for it to be used 
when needed. The answer to that question may be tied to the success of 
the educational information referred to above.
    There are many situationally dependent, time critical decisions 
that conscious occupants may face if their vehicle becomes immersed in 
water, particularly if it is caught in a flash flood. Do the occupants 
need to leave the vehicle interior to avoid drowning and how quickly 
should that happen? What is the best way to safely exit the vehicle? 
What is the fastest, most survivable path to exit the flood waters? 
What special considerations are needed to help children get out of the 
vehicle if only one adult is present? All of these decisions and many 
more must be made within a few seconds once such a life threatening 
event begins. Once a vehicle becomes completely submerged, the 
occupants will face a reduced chance of survival.\10\

    \10\ Gordon G. Giesbrecht, ``My Car Is Sinking: Automobile 
Submersion, Lessons in Vehicle Escape,'' Aviation, Space, and 
Environmental Medicine, Volume 81, Issue 8, August 2010.

    All of the above issues are open questions that will affect the 
real world effectiveness of a requirement to provide an emergency glass 
breaking tool. Based on the information available to NHTSA about the 
apparent size of the safety problem (i.e., the number of people who die 
each year from drowning in their vehicle because they could not open 
the window and were not otherwise incapacitated) and the lack of 
information available about how well emergency glass breaking tools 
might address that safety problem, the agency is unable to say with 
confidence that a requirements for an emergency window breaking tool 
would meet the need for safety, as required by the Safety Act.

C. Cost Effectiveness

    Anecdotal market research on commercially available tempered glass 
breaking tools shows that there are a variety of tools marketed as 
emergency window glass breaking tools. They are generally either a type 
of hammer or a spring loaded punch. Some of the available tools are 
intended solely for breaking glass. Other tools provide additional 
functionality such as seat belt cutters, flashlights, or even tire 
pressure gauges. Purchase costs for these tools range from 
approximately $3.50 to $20.00 each.
    In addition to the preliminary nature of the above cost estimates, 
there are several other barriers to making a reasonable estimate of the 
cost effectiveness of a potential requirement for this tool. First, as 
previously discussed, the available motor vehicle crash information 
suggests that the number of people that might be expected to require a 
means of escaping an immersed vehicle through a window opening may be 
on the order of 28 persons annually. However, as also outlined above, 
there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding any estimate, as the 
data does not permit a conclusive determination on the number of 
fatalities due solely to drowning, even when immersion is the first 
harmful event. Second, the potential effectiveness of the tool measured 
by an occupant's ability to safely exit a vehicle is not known. 
Although the glass breaking tool is expected to easily shatter tempered 
glass when used, there are other factors that are very likely to reduce 
the effectiveness of the tool. High among these would be a lack of 
knowledge of the existence of the tool and finding it as a vehicle 
becomes immersed. Thus, the uncertainty in the population of vehicle 
occupants that require the tool and in its potential effectiveness 
results in a highly uncertain assessment of potential benefits. Any 
resulting cost effectiveness estimate would be tenuous.

D. Response to Standard Equipment Statement

    Ms. Bennett wrote that spare tires and jacks are ``standard'' on 
all vehicles. This is not correct; NHTSA has issued no standard or 
regulation which requires vehicles to be provisioned with a spare tire 
and tools for changing tires. Many vehicles do not have a spare tire 
and jack, but rather other means of facilitating the temporary driving 
of a vehicle after a tire becomes flat, such as an inflator and sealant 
kit or run-flat tires.\11\

    \11\ Your next car may not have a spare tire; Jim Travers; 
Consumer Reports.Org article; Published August 16, 2014; last 
accessed May 15, 2015; http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/08/your-next-car-may-not-have-a-spare-tire/index.htm.

    The vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may offer 
consumers the option to purchase motor vehicle equipment that provides 
safety benefits beyond the minimum requirements of the various FMVSS. 
Just as several OEMs sell optional first aid and road side assistance 
kits for their vehicles, they could sell an appropriate

[[Page 86687]]

glass breaking tool with recommended procedures for usage during an 
    Consumers also have the option to equip their vehicles with 
emergency safety equipment. Items such as fire extinguishers, 
automotive tool kits, aftermarket vehicle jacks and lug wrenches, 
battery jumper cables, first aid kits, winter emergency survival kits, 
survival kits for desert travel, and vehicle break down kits are items 
available for consumers to purchase for emergency preparedness. 
Consumers who do purchase safety items for their vehicles may be more 
likely to know where these items are stored in their vehicles and how 
to use the equipment. All vehicle operators are strongly encouraged to 
understand their vehicle's capabilities and safety features, their 
expected driving environment, and to be prepared for possible emergency 

IV. Conclusion

    NHTSA shares Ms. Bennett's desire to prevent deaths in motor 
vehicles. However, at this time there are several substantial obstacles 
to proposing an objective motor vehicle safety standard to assist 
vehicle occupants in evacuating a passenger vehicle that has become 
immersed in water.
    First, as previously explained, the data available to the agency 
shows there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding any estimate of 
occupants requiring the use of the glass breaking tool. Second, the 
potential effectiveness of the tool to provide drivers and occupants 
with a method to safely exit a vehicle during an immersion event is not 
known. Due to the uncertainty surrounding whether the glass breaking 
tool would successfully aid all occupants in all vehicles during a 
vehicle immersion situation, NHTSA cannot justify a mandate for such a 
    Even without a requirement that each vehicle have a glass breaking 
tool, there is nothing to keep vehicle manufacturers from providing it 
or other means to allow vehicle evacuation during immersion. In 
addition, consumers can purchase their own tool and locate it in the 
vehicle where they would be likely to access it in an emergency. Those 
consumers who do this may be more aware of the existence of the tool 
when the need to use it arises than would occupants of a vehicle where 
the tool has been provided as standard equipment.
    In accordance with 49 CFR part 552, NHTSA hereby denies Ms. Scheryn 
Bennett's January 22, 2014, petition to require every vehicle to be 
equipped with ``an emergency window breaker.''

    Authority: 49 U.S.C. 322, 30111, 30115, 30117, and 30162; 
delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.95.

    Issued in Washington, DC, under authority delegated in 49 CFR 
Raymond R. Posten,
Associate Administrator for Rulemaking.
[FR Doc. 2016-28126 Filed 11-30-16; 8:45 am]