I mentioned in another section of this issue that the Obama Administration named Chuck Hurley as the new administrator to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA should immediately address the grossly-inadequate roof crush standard which is badly in need of upgrading. That action would make sure consumers have access to the courts when they have been harmed as a result of a roof crush event. As we have reported in prior issues, the current roof standard has been in place since 1973. This was before SUVs became a common and very popular mode of consumer transportation. In theory, the roof crush standard is supposed to address the safety of vehicles’ roofs to withstand pressure when involved in rollover accidents.
As previously reported, NHTSA was required to deliver a roof crush standard to Congress by July 1, 2008. The agency had been ordered by Congress to strengthen its proposed rule because it did not significantly reduce loss of life and prevent injury. NHTSA asked for an extension until December 15, 2008, and then revised the date for issuing the final rule to April 30, 2009. Under the Bush Administration, NHTSA’s safety regulations took a back seat to corporate profits. Hopefully, under the new leadership, NHTSA will again put safety as the agency’s top priority. The first order of business should be to finalize a strong roof crush standard.
The Bush Administration proposed a roof crush standard that increased the ability of a roof to withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the unloaded vehicle’s weight, a standard already met by 70% of domestic automobile manufacturers. The proposed rule would have saved an estimated 13 to 44 lives out the 10,000 persons that die every year in rollover crashes, less than 1%. Safety experts believe this standard did not go far enough because it would still result in most passengers in rollover accidents being killed or paralyzed. That’s unacceptable.
The proposed rule during the Bush years also included preemption language that gave automobile manufacturers immunity from lawsuits, leaving manufacturers little incentive to make automobiles safer. The Bush Administration also included preemption language in preambles to safety regulations for occupant crash protection, side-impact protection, school bus seating and other final regulations. The Obama Administration should remove all preemption language and give consumers the right to seek justice in the courts. NHTSA should come up with a final roof crush standard that will save more lives, prevent more injuries, and give citizens just recourse in the courts. Under new leadership at the agency, I believe a new rule with a good standard will come out soon.
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