Products Liability Law Daily NHTSA final rule includes specs for new 3-year-old test dummy
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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

NHTSA final rule includes specs for new 3-year-old test dummy

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

NHTSA’s test program following the issuance of the proposed rule on the Q3s test dummy showed that the Q3s is a valuable tool for use in side impact testing.

A final rule amending the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) regulation on anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs) to add design and performance specifications for a test dummy representing a 3-year-old child, called the "Q3s" test dummy, has been issued by NHTSA. The Q3s is an instrumented dummy that can assess the performance of child restraint systems (CRSs) in protecting small children in side impacts. According to the agency, the addition of the Q3s provides NHTSA with a new test device that can be used to improve side impact protection for children. The effective date of the final rule is January 4, 2021. The incorporation by reference of the publications listed in the rule has been approved by the Director of the Federal Register as of January 4, 2021. Petitions for reconsideration of the final rule must be received by December 18, 2020 (NHTSA Final rule85 FR 69898, November 3, 2020).

Q3s test dummy rulemaking. This final rule amends NHTSA’s regulation on anthropomorphic test devices (49 CFR part 572) by adding a new Subpart W that sets forth design and performance specifications and qualification tests for the new Q3s test dummy. The Q3s weighs 14.5 kilograms (kg) (32.0 pounds) and has a seated height of 556 millimeters (mm) and is representative of a "50th percentile 3-year-old child." The dummy’s main parts (head, thorax, neck, shoulder, spine, abdomen, pelvis, and relevant instrumentation) and biofidelity were described in detail in a November 21, 2013 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) (78 FR 69944). NHTSA intends to use the Q3s test dummy in a proposed side impact test for child restraints.

In addition to incorporating the Q3s into 49 CFR part 572, the final rule standardizes NHTSA’s specifications on the dummy for testing and research purposes. Subpart W specifies a set of qualification tests and acceptance criteria for the Q3s’s head, neck, shoulder, thorax, lumbar, and pelvis, assessing 35 response mechanisms for the dummy. The new subpart also incorporates by reference a technical data package (TDP) for the Q3s consisting of a set of engineering drawings, a parts list, and a user’s manual that has procedures for assembly, disassembly, and inspection (PADI) of the dummy. The agency states that Q3s dummies manufactured to meet the acceptance criteria for the qualification tests and the TDP will be uniform in their design, construction, and response to impact forces.

As noted in the NPRM, the Q3s was found to exhibit repeatable performance in CRS side impact sled testing and in component-level qualification testing. As acknowledged in the NPRM, though, the agency’s findings were based on only a few Q3s dummies in existence when the NPRM was issued. When the rule was proposed, the Q3s was a proprietary product owned by Humanetics Innovative Solutions Inc. (HIS), and HIS was the only source from which the dummy could be obtained. NHTSA developed the Q3s NPRM based on its testing experiences with four units that the agency had purchased from HIS. In the NPRM, the agency expressed a desire to examine more data on more dummies from multiple test labs and an expectation that it will "continue to collect qualification data" and "will examine all qualification data provided to us by commenters."

Comments. NHTSA received comments on the Q3s NPRM from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), Graco Children’s Products, Inc. (Graco), Dorel Juvenile Group (Dorel), and HIS. Several commenters said they could not obtain the Q3s dummies from the dummy manufacturer HIS and so had little or no information about the ATD. Some expressed concern that the dummy’s repeatability and reproducibility of performance were not assessed across various test facilities. Others asked for more data from tests with more dummies to round out the "qualification corridors." In addition, the commenters made several technical comments relating to the ATD.

In mid-2014, HIS began delivery of new Q3s dummies to end-users, including NHTSA, CRS manufacturers, and testing laboratories. In 2014 and 2015, to obtain more data on the Q3s, NHTSA conducted systematic testing of the new units from HIS, contracting with laboratories to carry out a full series of qualification tests with six Q3s dummies. The units included three of the agency’s original four dummies together with new dummies manufactured in 2014. The agency set up a series of experiments designed to evaluate the performance of the Q3s in several different labs, examining the repeatability and reproducibility of the Q3s’s performance. NHTSA designed the test program to assess all sources of variability, to quantify the degree of variability, determine its acceptability, and assess whether the underlying cause was a non-uniform test procedure at a lab (and among the labs), an aspect of dummy design, or the dummy manufacturer’s production of Q3s units.

Final rule. NHTSA concluded that the data presented in the 2013 NPRM and obtained in its post-NPRM test program demonstrated that the Q3s is a valuable tool for use in side impact testing. The agency maintained that adopting the Q3s into 49 CFR part 572 enhances NHTSA’s efforts to reduce unreasonable risks posed by side crashes to children.

Data from the tests detailed above were used to finalize the acceptance criteria for the qualification tests and ensure that a high level of repeatability and reproducibility would be maintained going forward. For the final rule, HIS removed all proprietary rights to the Q3s. While single source restrictions were in place during the NPRM stage (HIS had retained rights to manufacture the dummy), the dummy drawings and designs are now free of any restrictions, including restrictions on their use in fabrication and in building computer simulation models of the dummy.

Costs and benefits. NHTSA notes that the benefits associated with the final rule cannot be quantified. The incorporation of the test dummy into 49 CFR part 572—the first-ever child test dummy incorporated by NHTSA for use in side impacts—has the potential to significantly improve child passenger safety in motor vehicles, the agency says. Adopting the Q3s gives NHTSA a tool to assess the performance of dynamic side impact protection requirements for child restraints using an ATD representative of children for whom the CRS is designed, and to quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of CRSs in preventing or attenuating head and chest injuries in side impacts. In addition, the availability of this dummy in a regulated format will provide a test tool that potentially can be used with other products designed to benefit children in side impacts.

Further, this final rule does not impose any requirements on anyone. NHTSA has proposed to use the Q3s in its compliance testing of a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213, Child restraint systems, test under development. However, even following adoption of the test, manufacturers would not be required to use the Q3s or assess the performance of their products in the manner specified in the standard. Also, child restraint manufacturers would be affected by this final rule only if they choose to use the Q3s to test their products. Finally, for entities choosing to own the Q3s, NHTSA estimates that the cost of an uninstrumented Q3s dummy is approximately $50,000. Instrumentation installed within the dummy needed to perform the qualification in accordance with part 572, subpart W, adds approximately $20,000, for a total cost of about $70,000.

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