Public Citizen, Inc. v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

374 F.3d 1251 (2004)

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Public Citizen, Inc. v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
374 F.3d 1251 (2004)

  • Written by Haley Gintis, JD

Facts

In 1997 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) encouraged automakers to reduce the force of their airbags for the safety of children and smaller adults. The NHTSA introduced the sled test, under which an airbag was approved if it could protect individuals from harmful injuries in the event of a crash at a velocity of 22 miles per hour. In 1998 Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act of the Twenty-First Century (the transportation act), directing NHTSA to adopt new safety standards to improve occupant protection, minimize airbag injuries to smaller individuals, and encourage the use of advanced airbags that relied on technology. The transportation act did not require that NHTSA enact any specific testing requirements but did provide that the sled test would stay in effect unless NHTSA decided otherwise. NHTSA conducted the notice-and-comment rulemaking required by the Administrative Procedure Act and enacted a final rule adopting the 25-mile-per-hour unbelted rigid-barrier test. Under this test, automakers had to establish that their airbags would provide protection for an unbelted occupant if the car crashed while traveling at 25 miles per hour. The final rule also provided that in 2007 the requirement would increase to 30 miles per hour. NHTSA explained that it had chosen the 25-mile-per-hour unbelted rigid-barrier test by balancing the transportation act’s goals of ensuring airbag protection and ensuring that the airbags did not cause injuries. NHTSA also explained that the new test was more rigorous than the sled test and, therefore, offered more protection to occupants. In response to the final rule, Public Citizen, Inc., and other consumer-safety groups (collectively, Public) (plaintiffs) filed a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit against NHTSA. Public argued that NHTSA had violated the transportation act by not improving occupant protection and had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in promulgating the 25-mile-per-hour unbelted rigid-barrier test. The court considered whether the petition warranted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Tatel, J.)

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