Global NCAP reacts to Trump’s ’bowling ball’ car test ‘joke’


Noting that fewer American cars are sold in Japan compared to the great number of Japanese cars sold in the United States, President Donald Trump asserted last month that Japan bars American cars from its market through an odd test.

“They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car,” he said. “And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify.”

The next day, at a briefing, White House Press Secretary Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that “Obviously, he’s joking about that particular test, but it illustrates the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their market.”

Reacting to this, Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) Secretary General David Ward said: “President Trump’s comment, whether intended as a joke or not, shows no understanding of the purpose or procedure of the global pedestrian impact test.


“Far more worrying is that his remarks are trying to ‘weaponize’ a safety feature by treating it as an ‘unfair’ trade practice.

“This is against the interests of both American consumers and automobile manufacturers.

“The solution is for the US to apply the United Nations pedestrian protection regulation to help save American lives and sell American cars in Japan and the European Union.”

In a letter dated March 19, the head of Global NCAP, the world’s leading consumer crash testing organization, urged Trump to make “America First” in pedestrian protection by adopting the same global standard applied by Japan.

To solve the issue of market access, he encouraged the US president to apply UN Global Technical Regulation (GTR) Number 9 on pedestrian protection “as a matter of urgency.”

UN GTR No. 9 was adopted by the UN World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) under a 1998 Agreement to which the United States of America is a contracting party.

Since 2005, it has been applied in Japan and the EU.

’Pop up’ hood

Developed by the automotive industry, the pedestrian protection system increasingly uses an active “pop up” hood to reduce the severity of head injury to the struck pedestrian.

In the active hood application, a sensor system detects when a collision with a pedestrian is going to occur. The system sends a signal that lifts the rear part of the hood near the hinges, angling it upward. This provides sufficient space between the hood and the hard engine components, creating a deformable, flexible surface for impact.

Pedestrian protection systems include an active front bumper which, upon receiving a signal, extends and retracts, thus absorbing the crash energy to help protect the pedestrian from coming in contact with the hard, rigid engine block.

Pedestrian protection systems can use a variety of mechanisms to activate the hood or bumper. Currently, small airbags or “pop up” devices controlled by pyrotechnic actuators are used.

Not in the USA

In his letter to Trump, Ward said that to date, the US has not applied GTR No. 9 despite a recommendation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2015 to include it in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) of the USA.

In 2015, the NHTSA noted in the Federal Register that NCAP testing in Europe and Japan has likely contributed to a downward trend in pedestrian fatalities, therefore including pedestrian protection in the US NCAP would be a step toward realizing similar downward trends in regions of the world that include pedestrians in their consumer information programs.

Pedestrian fatalities in the US have risen for two years in succession, amounting to 6,000 lives lost yearly and accounting for 16 percent of total road deaths, Global NCAP pointed out.

The organization expressed its strong agreement with NHTSA’s 2015 assessment that improved pedestrian protection in the US could help reduce the number killed in such crashes each year.

Export potential

Ward noted that American manufacturers based in the EU are already meeting these requirements, so there is no technological challenge for them whatsoever, and adopting global standards would help to make American pedestrians safer and increase the export potential of US manufacturers.

Concluding his letter to Trump, Ward “humbly” suggested that this is the way to put “America First” in pedestrian protection rather than languish below global best practices in automobile safety regulations.

He also offered Global NCAP’s assistance to the Trump administration with such regulatory and NCAP initiatives to promote pedestrian safety.

Meanwhile, in a separate letter to Matthias Wissman, president of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), Ward expressed Global NCAP’s concern that the head of state of a leading automobile manufacturing nation “seems to be entirely unaware of the benefits of global harmonization of safety standards that are available to the United States” through UN WP.29.

OICA, based in Paris, includes the US Auto Alliance as a member.

“As you may be aware,” Ward wrote to OICA, “the President of the United States, Donald Trump, last week disparaged the Japanese government’s application of pedestrian protection tests, implying that this requirement was an example of an unfair trade practice!”

A joke

Ward continued: “Although dismissed as a joke by the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, she confirmed that President Trump was illustrating ‘the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their markets.’”

On the contrary, a major benefit of Global Technical Regulations (GTRs) is that, far from being an unfair trade practice, they provide a predictable regulatory framework for the automotive industry and consumers, Global NCAP’s secretary general contended.

Noting that an Administrator for the US NHTSA has yet to be appointed, Ward said it is possible that President Trump had been incorrectly briefed on pedestrian protection.

Given the OICA’s strong commitment to global harmonization, Ward wrote he trusts that Wissman shares Global NCAP’s concern that safety issues should not be used to exacerbate current tensions about “unfair” trade practices.

Global NCAP therefore called on OICA to confirm that it fully endorses UN GTR No. 9 on pedestrian protection as a valuable regulatory instrument for countries wishing to reduce pedestrian fatalities.

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