German automaker BMW is recalling every one of the 29,383 i3 electric vehicles it has sold in the U.S. and has told dealers to stop sales of the 1,159 currently in dealer inventory as a result of recent testing that indicates a small driver not wearing a seat belt has a higher risk of neck injury in a head-on collision.
The testing was conducted by the U.S. National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) as part of recent certification testing and the results were “marginally above the limit” for unbelted, small drivers (NHTSA category is 5th percentile female) who are 5-feet tall and weigh 110 pounds.
BMW’s own testing did not reveal the anomaly but the NHTSA’s test did surface an inconsistency. The recall and stop-ship notice are the result.
Exactly how BMW can fix this problem is unclear. The obvious fix is for all drivers to wear seat belts at all times. The only sure way to do that is to disable the starting sequence until the driver puts on her seat belt. Can that be limited just to small, light females?
Every state requires drivers to wear a seat belt but laws differ on enforcement. In some states drivers can be stopped if observed not wearing a seat belt; in others, driving unbelted is an issue only if the driver is stopped for another reason. In the first case, seat belt use last year totaled 92% according to NHTSA data; in the second case, only 83% of drivers used seat belts. Belts cut serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half and save nearly 14,000 lives in 2015.
In a letter to dealers dated November 16 and posted at the InsideEVs website, BMW said that car owners would receive a letter in January advising them of the recall.