The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a powerful automobile industry group, will require stronger vehicle roofs in awarding its top safety rating. The Institute will require automakers to dramatically increase the strength of vehicle roofs to receive its top safety pick ratings. Virginia-based IIHS conducts dozens of crash tests annually and pressures automakers into adding safety features to reduce car crash injuries and deaths. Its ratings are widely used by consumers and touted by companies that win them. It’s reported that automakers often make design changes to boost their ratings.
The institute, financed by the insurance industry, already conducts front, side-impact and rear-impact crash tests. The roof was just about the only thing left. As we have reported, rollover crashes kill about 10,000 people each year. Adrian Lund, president of IIHS, said another study it commissioned had convinced the Institute that it was time to require automakers to do more to improve roof strength. A study released by IIHS last month, which is an industry-funded group, at the SAE Government/Industry meetings reveals that a 1.0 increase in roof strength reduces the risk of fatalities in a single-passenger car rollover by over 20%.
In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a proposal to require a vehicle roof to withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle weight while at the same time maintaining sufficient head room for a buckled-in, average-size adult male to avoid being struck. That’s up from the current standard of withstanding a force equal to 1.5 times the vehicle weight. But NHTSA hasn’t finalized its regulation. Starting in the fall, IIHS will require automakers to have a 4.0 rating to win a top safety pick. Concerning the need for stronger roofs, Lund observed:
We see significant safety benefits in stronger vehicle roofs. The government is moving slowly and they are going to continue to move slowly. NHTSA has clearly undercounted the number of injuries and deaths that can be prevented by stronger roofs.
From a legal perspective, there is no law or regulation that says automakers have to pass the new test. But failing to do so – or getting poor marks – has a downside and that’s some real bad publicity. The institute’s tests are widely reported. And that fact makes it likely automakers will make the needed changes that are necessary to do well on the test. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and six others, supports increasing the standard to 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight, but says going beyond that is unwarranted.
Most reliable safety advocates see that as being such “a minor improvement” it would be ”meaningless.” At a news conference last fall my longtime friend Joan Claybrook, who at the time was the president of Public Citizen, said the “NHTSA is more concerned with protecting auto companies than the families who needlessly lose loved ones each day.”
NHTSA’s proposed update also would cover vehicles that weigh up to 10,000 pounds, versus the current 6,000-pound requirement. The proposal is aimed at helping people survive rollover crashes, which account for more than 10,000 deaths annually. Rollovers represent 3% of all crashes, but account for one-third of all vehicle deaths. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. essentially wrote the regulation that’s been in effect since 1973 after their fleets failed NHTSA’s first proposed roof standard in 1971. NHTSA studied the issue for more than a decade before proposing in August 2005 to increase the strength of vehicle roofs and broaden the number of the vehicles covered. NHTSA said then that upping the standard to 2.5 times the vehicle weight would save 13 to 44 lives and prevent up to 800 injuries annually. The agency said it would require that both sides of the vehicle roof be tested, and in January, NHTSA updated its proposal to include a double-sided test. Currently, only one side is tested.
Our firm currently pursues claims involving roof crush brought against auto manufacturers for failure to design and manufacture roofs that will provide adequate protection in foreseeable rollover crashes. If you have any questions please contact Graham Esdale by email at Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com or by phone at 800-898-2034.
Source: Portions of this article were taken from “Institute Raises Roof Standard” by David Shepardson/Detroit News” and “Test Designed to Improve Rollover Safety” by Christopher Jensen/New York Times. February 6, 2009.
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