The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has issued its final rule on the standard for roof safety, doubling the requirement of weight that a vehicle’s roof must be able to withstand. NHTSA Standard 216 – which hadn’t been updated in more than 35 years – now requires vehicle roofs to withstand three times their weight for vehicles weighing up to 6,000 pounds. The roof crush standard deals with the ability of a vehicle’s roof to withstand pressure when involved in rollover accidents. Previously, the standard required a roof to withstand 1.5 times its weight.
The new rule will be phased into effect between September 1, 2012 and September 1, 2015. The agency was originally scheduled to issue the new standard by July 1, 2008, but it delayed after receiving complaints from safety advocates and members of Congress. NHTSA had previously proposed a change to the rule that increased the roof support requirement to 2.5 times a vehicle’s weight. Also, the proposal included a very bad provision that would have allowed the federal standard to preempt state tort law claims.
It’s most significant that all of the preemption language was removed from the final rule. That is a big win for the American people. Advocates had also sought a change to the testing protocol. Currently, tests are performed only on one side of a vehicle and are static, with the car stationary while a metal plate is pressed against the vehicle. Unfortunately, the new standard did not make the change to dynamic testing – where the car is in motion, replicating a real-life rollover scenario – but did change the testing protocol to include both sides of the vehicle. Hopefully, these needed changes will come in time. Even without this feature, this new rule will increase vehicle safety and save lives.
For vehicles less than 6,000 pounds the standard is clearly better than it used to be, but not for those vehicles in excess of 6,000 pounds. Those vehicles include a dual rear-wheel pickup truck, a 15-passenger van, or a large SUV such as a Ford Excursion. While the new rule is much better than the old rule, it can be made much stronger. Hopefully, that will happen.
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