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October 26, 2005


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed its long-promised, controversial new standard to improve protection from roof crush in rollover and other crashes. (NHTSA Docket 2005-22143.) Information about the proposal and access to the entire text are available from NHTSA

The agency is accepting comments on its proposal through Nov. 19. Already the proposal has generated considerable dispute. Access to comments filed to date and instructions for filing comments, as well as to related NHTSA reports and studies, is available from DOT

Opposition to the proposal centers on allegations that it is too weak, that it fails to provide adequate protection against occupant injury in rollovers of Light Truck vehicles (SUVs, pickup trucks, vans), and that it would limit the right of litigation by injured people against manufacturers whose vehicle roofs were insufficiently strong even though they complied with the new standard. A relevant excerpt from the proposal give the agency’s reasoning:

First, we believe that requiring a more stringent level of roof crush resistance for all vehicles could increase rollover propensity of many vehicles and thereby create offsetting adverse safety consequences. While the agency is aware of at least several current vehicle models that provide greater roof crush resistance than would be required under our proposal, requiring greater levels of roof crush resistance for all vehicles could, depending on the methods of construction and materials used, and on other factors, render other vehicles more prone to rollovers, thus frustrating the agency’s objectives in this rulemaking.

Second, we believe that requiring vehicle manufacturers to improve roof crush resistance by a specific method would also frustrate agency goals. The optimum methods for addressing the risks of rollover crashes vary considerably for different vehicles, and requiring specific methods for improving roof crush resistance could interfere with the efforts to develop optimal solutions. Moreover, some methods of improving roof crush resistance are costlier than others. The resources diverted to increasing roof strength using one of the costlier methods could delay or even prevent vehicle manufacturers from equipping their vehicles with advanced vehicle technologies for reducing rollovers, such as Electronic Stability Control.

Based on the foregoing, if the proposal were adopted as a final rule, it would preempt all conflicting State common law requirements, including rules of tort law.

An example of opposition to the proposal is the early reaction of
Public Citizen.

For a look at the proposal’s implications for lawsuits against manufacturers by injured people, see this article from the Washington Post (registration may be required).

(Note: For historical information on rollovers and injuries, go to the “Collections” section of this website.)

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


According to new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, “the seat/head restraints in most current minivan models are marginal or poor, indicating they wouldn't provide adequate protection from whiplash injuries for many people in rear-end collisions.” For details go to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


Three advocacy groups have won a court decision against the National Highway Safety Administration’s requirement for built-in tire pressure measurement systems in new vehicles. The groups had argued that the requirement is defective because it permits cheaper and less reliable “indirect systems” technologies. The court agreed, sending the requirement back to the agency for further consideration. See Center for Auto Safety article.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


A Memphis, Tenn., court has turned down DaimlerChrysler AG's motion to reverse a $48.8-million punitive jury award, finding the company's conduct led to the death of a 38-year-old woman in a Dodge Caravan accident. The case was brought by the family of Vickie Mohr, who charged that her death was caused by the design of the minivan, which left people vulnerable in offset collisions, where only part of the front end is hit. For details, visit Biz Journals (registration required).

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


According to the Detroit Free Press, which spearheaded an investigation of the problem, Ford Motor Co., “acknowledging for the first time that Lincoln Town Car stretch limousines might be prone to catching fire in high-impact rear collisions, is offering to help retrofit the vehicles to better protect them.” The paper said that in a September letter to companies that convert Town Cars into limousines, Ford said it would provide, at no cost, a kit to protect the vehicle's gas tank from being punctured when rear-ended.

“It is the same kit that Ford began installing on its popular Crown Victoria Police Interceptors in October 2003, after several police officers died in fuel-fed fires in their sedans. Civilians have also died in similar models of the vehicle,” the paper said.

The Town Car is built on the same basic platform as Ford's Crown Victoria and the Mercury Marquis. Nearly 32,000 Town Car stretch limos are on the road.

This is the first time that Ford Motor will make free kits available to owners of at least some of those cars. Safety advocates have urged the company to provide such kits to owners of all Crown Victoria and Mercury Marquis models. See St. Louis Free Press article.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


In the past five years, safety belt use has increased steadily from 71 percent in 2000 to 82 percent this year, according to a new Department of Transportation survey.

The figures were released by DOT Secretary Norman Mineta. At a rate of 82 percent, he said, safety belts are preventing 15,700 fatalities, 350,000 serious injuries, and $67 billion in economic costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths every year. The increase in belt use over the past year alone has prevented 540 fatalities, 8,000 serious injuries, and $1.8 billion in economic costs, he added.

The Secretary said the success was due in large part to states that have passed primary safety belt laws. Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have primary safety belt laws that allow police officers to stop a motorist solely for belt violations. South Carolina will become the 22nd state with a primary law that takes effect in December.

Results for motorcycle helmet use were considerably less encouraging, according to the survey results. Between 2004 and 2005, the use of DOT-approved helmets dropped from 58 percent to 48 percent nationwide. Helmet use in states without mandatory laws was 37 percent.

For details visit this DOT site.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


Reuters reports that Saab, which is part of General Motors, recall some 300,000 Saab 9-3s and 9-5s from the model years 2000 through 2002 because of overheating in the ignition system. "We will recall around 300,000 cars world-wide. A fault has emerged where electric overload causes ignition box failure and the engine won't start," Saab spokesman Christer Nilsson told Reuters. "In rare cases engines have stopped while driving." For details, see Reuters.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM


In NHTSA’s consumer “safety ratings” program for model year 2006, a total of 41 passenger cars, 21 sport utility vehicles, five vans, and 10 pickups will be subjected to frontal and side crash safety tests. “When the tests are completed by the spring of 2006, consumers will have access to frontal crash test ratings for about 83 percent of all 2006 offerings and side impact safety information for about 69 percent,” the agency reported. The agency also will provide rollover ratings for 18 passenger cars, 25 sport utility vehicles, four vans and nine pickups. Together with vehicles already tested, NHTSA will provide rollover safety information for approximately 81 percent of the model year 2006 U.S. passenger vehicle fleet. NHTSA uses what it calls a “consumer friendly system” – ratings from one to five stars – that it says “make it easy for vehicle-to-vehicle comparisons.” The system was put in place some years ago, replacing an earlier one in which ratings indicated vehicle “pass-fail” results in the tests. For details go to NHTSA.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:58 AM