Six vehicles that passed the federal government’s roof strength standard did far worse when subjected to a real-world test that puts the vehicles and crash-test dummies through an actual rollover, according to the results of a new comparison released by three auto safety groups. In dramatic video released by the Center for Auto Safety, the Center for Injury Research (CfIR) and Public Citizen, crash-test dummies involved in the dynamic (real-world) tests performed by CfIR were exposed to traumatic impacts that would have been fatal or paralyzing to human occupants. The dummies suffered their “injuries” despite being restrained by seat belts and in vehicles that had receiving passing grades under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s existing roof strength standard.
The comparison, sponsored by the Santos Family Foundation, involved the 2007 Pontiac G6, 2006 Chrysler 300, 2007 Toyota Camry, 2007 Volkswagen Jetta, 2006 Honda Ridgeline and 2006 Hyundai Sonata, which were tested on the Jordan Rollover System (JRS), a device designed to dynamically test the rollover occupant protection performance of motor vehicles. The vehicles, which were donated by State Farm Insurance, are the same ones that performed well in NHTSA’s “static” test. The study underscores the need for NHTSA to adopt a similar dynamic test for passenger vehicles and light trucks, rather than the current static method of testing, which tests the strength of a stationary, upright vehicle’s roof but disregards what happens to passengers during a rollover, as well as a rolling vehicle’s ability to withstand crash forces. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said:
NHTSA – complicit with Detroit auto companies – has wasted years considering a static standard it estimates will save only 13 to 44 lives out of 10,800 rollover deaths annually. It has refused to use dynamic testing for a comprehensive standard to save thousands of lives and reduce head injury and ejection. The Congress, the next administration, and/or the courts will be asked by consumers to right this wrong.
Instead of adopting a dynamic test, NHTSA has proposed a slight upgrade for the 1971 standard for vehicle roofs that relies solely on measuring the ability of the roof to resist 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight instead of the current 1.5 times. NHTSA, which was scheduled to release its final rule by October 1st, is continuing to endanger lives and doing little to reduce the more than 10,800 deaths a year in rollover crashes, according to Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety. He observed:
After 35 years of rollover fatalities increasing eight-fold due to weak roofs and weak standards, it’s time to issue a dynamic roof crush standard to match the lifesaving dynamic standards NHTSA has for front and side impacts where occupant fatalities have decreased by 25%.
In its 2005 highway bill, Congress demanded that NHTSA write new performance standards that would reduce passenger ejections and increase roof strength. The legislation also clearly called for testing both sides of the vehicle roof. Studies show that the initial impact of a rollover can break the windshield, which can substantially weaken the other side of the roof, greatly increasing the chance it will crumple and injure the occupants. NHTSA’s final rule should take into account not only roof strength, but the performance of safety belts, curtain air bags, door locks and latches, windows and roof racks. Donald Friedman, founder of the Center for Injury Research, says that the agency must develop a dynamic test that mimics an actual rollover and takes into account passenger ejection and containment. Friedman, a partner in Xprts, LLC, a California consulting firm, observed:
A light truck and a passenger car with the same static roof strength can have grossly different rollover occupant protection capability as revealed in our dynamic JRS tests. The federal government’s existing standard tests only roof structure performance, while dynamic tests measure injury potential in a rollover.
Also, the proposed rule’s preamble contains disturbing language that says any manufacturer whose vehicle complies with the standard should not be held liable for occupant injuries in that vehicle. Ms. Claybrook stated:
NHTSA’s rule, which it says would save less that half of 1% of the 10,800 annual rollover deaths, urges state courts to pre-empt consumer injury lawsuits involving vehicles meeting this do-nothing standard. It reveals that NHTSA is more concerned with protecting auto companies than the families who needlessly lose loved ones each day.
Hopefully, the next President and the next Congress will take a close look at NHTSA and how it operates. There must be meaningful changes that will mandate that the agency truly make safety its top priority.
Source: Public Citizen
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