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 October 26, 2005 09:58 AM