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Feds to Change Minor Safety Rules to Aid Drivers with Disabilities

Feds to Change Minor Safety Rules to Aid Drivers with Disabilities
Feds to Change Minor Safety Rules to Aid Drivers with Disabilities
Mark HuntGetty Images
  • The Department of Transportation is proposing two possible small rules changes, both meant to give people with disabilities better driving options.
  • The first involves rental cars and would give rental agencies the ability to temporarily disable knee airbags so they don't cause metal hand controls to hit the driver if there's a crash.
  • The second is about rear-mounted carrying shelves for wheelchairs and power scooters, which can get in the way of backup cameras. The DOT wants to approve both measures and is giving the public until January 27, 2021, to chime in.

    Finding the right balance between keeping all of a vehicle's safety features in operation for all drivers and allowing people with disabilities more access to transportation sometimes requires digging into the minutiae of federal regulations.

    That's the case with a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation that would allow people with disabilities to drive vehicles that have had one of two notable changes to their safety features. First, if approved, the rule would allow rental car companies to rent vehicles with their driver's-side knee bolster airbags temporarily deactivated for drivers who need hand pedals. This change was prompted by questions from the Enterprise rental-car company, the DOT said.

    Second, a rule change would allow vehicle dealers and repair businesses to install "rear-mounted transporters for wheelchairs and power scooters," which might otherwise be forbidden because they can block the view of backup cameras. This rule change was petitioned by Bruno Independent Living Aids, which said it wants to be sure that installing its transporters would not run afoul of the rules as they currently stand.

    These changes can certainly reduce a vehicle's safety, but there are logical reasons that drivers with disabilities would benefit from these changes. Regarding the first, the DOT said, turning off the knee airbag would mean that people with disabilities who need hand controls could rent vehicles safely. The DOT said that if a knee-bolster airbag deploys in a crash, "The resulting force of the deployment could cause the hand controls to strike the driver with extreme forces and create a serious risk to the safety of the driver." For the second change, allowing rear-mounted transporters would "improve mobility for drivers and passengers with disabilities" in general, the DOT said.

    "This rule will make it easier for individuals with disabilities to achieve greater mobility and freedom in their lives," U.S. transportation secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.



    Generally, the Federal Code makes it illegal for any "vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer, rental company, or repair business" to "knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed in or on a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable [federal motor vehicle safety standard]." If this proposed rule goes into effect, registered companies would be allowed to make these specific changes as long as they also add a permanent label to the modified vehicle that makes it clear the vehicle no longer complies with the safety standards.

    The two proposed rule changes are further modifications of a 2016 rulemaking notice that exempted vehicles driven by people with disabilities from some roof crush resistance safety standards. A public comment period for these changes ends January 27, 2021.

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    Source:caranddriver.com