Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers have been controversial for more than a decade for a propensity for fuel leaks and fires when struck from behind. Safety experts also say these cars provide marginal protection of drivers in side-impact crashes. The location of the gas tank has been linked by critics to more than a dozen deaths of police officers, most in stopped cruisers struck from behind at high speeds.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2001 and 2002 investigated 23 fires in civilian and police Crown Victorias and mechanically similar Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars that involved 14 deaths, mostly police officers. It concluded that the vehicles performed no worse than other sedans and that there was no evidence of a safety defect. But, even so, Ford has modified the police and civilian cars since the early 1990s including, for police cars starting in 2002, adding five shields designed to reduce the chances that the fuel tank would be ruptured by various bolts, brackets and straps.
Beginning in 2005, Ford also offered, as an option, a fire suppression kit that automatically sprays foam in a crash and can be activated manually by a police officer. In 2009 cruisers, the system has a cost of $3,495, according to Ford. The Crown Victoria is the most popular car available with police performance packages, accounting for about 85% of sales to law enforcement. Police and civilian versions of the Crown Victoria came under criticism in 2006 from the private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for what it called “marginal” protection of the driver in side impacts, even when equipped with side-impact airbags.
Accidents can trigger explosions a number of ways, especially in high-speed crashes. Cars contain flammable materials, including gasoline, oil and other combustibles, so leaks from ruptured fuel lines can ignite quickly. Critics of the Ford Crown Victoria used by police departments say its fuel tank is located within its crush zone, the area that absorbs the energy of a severe impact. Such an impact can rupture the tank and cause an explosion.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; www.crownvictoriasafetyalert.com
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