As we have mentioned in previous issues, it’s undisputed that rollover events are foreseeable crashes. Auto manufacturers have made billions of dollars over the last two decades selling large- and medium-sized sport utility vehicles to the traveling public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), along with auto manufacturers, have recognized since the early ‘70’s that vehicles like SUVs, with high centers of gravity, are more susceptible to rollover events than other types of passenger cars. The federal government even compiles statistics regarding the types of accidents that occur on an annual basis in this country. The statistics show that rollover events are common and usually result in severe injuries or death. Despite this evidence, auto manufacturers have failed to provide vehicle designs that incorporate adequate occupant safety features to prevent or mitigate injuries in rollover events.
During a rollover event a number of factors can contribute to serious injuries or deaths for occupants. These factors include roof strength, seat belt design, and airbag systems, as well as glazing or glass. Often, occupants are injured by significant roof crush during a rollover event. Manufacturers are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216 for roof strength in order to sell vehicles to the public. However, the standard is inadequate. This standard does not require a manufacturer to perform a dynamic rollover test to see how a roof performs in an actual rollover event. As a result, most vehicles have inadequate roof strength. When the roof crushes because of the forces of a rollover event, occupants are at risk for severe head and/or spine injuries. NHTSA is currently debating whether to strengthen this particular standard. Coincidentally, most manufacturers oppose any change to FMVSS 216.
Occupants are also injured when their head, arms, or body parts break the plane of the door window during a rollover event. In most vehicles, seat belts are anchored to the body of the vehicle, which allows for significant lateral occupant movement during a rollover event. An occupant’s head may break the plane of the window and strike the pavement or other obstacles as a result of lateral occupant movement. Manufacturers have known for years that this type of occupant movement in a rollover event can be significantly reduced by mounting seat belts to the seats. Manufacturers have also been aware of seat belt pretensioners which automatically pull the seat belt tighter when the vehicle senses an impending rollover.
Manufacturers also can include a side airbag curtain. This safety technology works like a frontal airbag system, but the airbag fires when sensors detect an impending rollover event. What’s significant is that side air curtains prevent the occupant from breaking the plane of the window, thereby limiting the chances that an occupant will be injured during a rollover event.
Additionally, a number of manufacturers have included laminated glass in one form or another in order to prevent occupants from breaking through the plane of the window during a rollover event. Typical safety glass currently used in most vehicles breaks into numerous small pieces during a rollover event and leaves the plane of the window open. Laminated glass remains intact and does not break during a rollover event. This allows an occupant to remain inside the confines of a vehicle, thereby preventing serious injuries or death. In recent years, a number of manufacturers, including Ford Motor Company, have included laminated glass in a small number of their higher-priced vehicles. Ford has included laminated glass in vehicles manufactured under the Lincoln name plate. However, auto manufacturers often claim that the use of laminated glass is for sound reduction as opposed to occupant safety.
Many of these occupant safety features have been technologically feasible and available since the early 1990s. Because this type of safety technology is available to reduce occupant injuries in foreseeable rollover events, one must ask why manufacturers refuse to make such features standard. In fact, most manufacturers do not even provide sufficient information to the public to allow them to make informed decisions about when and how this technology is available. In most cases, European manufacturers include many of these safety features as standard equipment. Safety should not be optional. Where technology is feasible and available, a manufacturer should include safety features that can reduce severe injuries or death in foreseeable accident events like rollovers.
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