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December 15, 2005


A former NHTSA senior official and highly regarded crashworthiness engineer has warned the agency that its proposed amendments to the federal roof crush standard, FMVSS 216, are “a license to reduce the durability of the roof to withstand multiple impacts” and will “increase rather than decrease the rollover casualties that can be attributed to roof intrusion.” Dr. Kennerly Digges based his conclusions on independent tests recently carried out under his direction at George Washington University with the support of the Santos Family Foundation, as well as on earlier research.

Digges enumerated the proposal’s problems, including the following:

--A single static roof test of a pristine vehicle, which is called for by the proposal and the present standard, “does not adequately represent the rollover crash conditions that cause roof collapse in the field.”

--“…lateral shifts in roof deformation can play a role in exposing belted occupants to partial ejection. The proposed FMVSS 216 does not address the roof and ground contact injuries that are associated with more hazardous deformation modes than that produced by the specified static test.”

-- Occupant modeling carried out during the GWU test program “indicates that lateral shifts in roof deformation can play a role in exposing belted occupants to partial ejection.
The proposed FMVSS 216 does not address the roof and ground contact injuries that are associated with more hazardous deformation modes than that produced by the specified static test.”

--Analysis of FMVSS 216 test results “suggest that the current version of FMVSS 216 is deficient in that it does not assure the durability of the roof structure to withstand the varied and repeated roof loading that takes place in real world rollovers.” The data “also indicates that the FMVSS 216 upgrade does not adequately address this deficiency. At least one of the vehicles tested passed the requirements of the new standard, but had a residual strength after glass breakage that was among the lowest of all vehicles tested.”

--If the proposed standard preempted rules of tort law, as NHTSA has indicated, “…such action would free manufacturers to reduce weight and cost by designing so that the glass supports an increasing fraction of the 250% load requirement. There would be no sanctions to prevent the design of a roof that totally collapses after the glass breaks. As a consequence, the durability of the roof to withstand multiple impacts would decrease. The standard would be counterproductive – increasing the injuries to belted occupants in rollovers who are subjected to multiple roof impacts.”

Click here to see the full text of the comments. For background information and links concerning NHTSA’s proposed rulemaking, visit roof-crush articles in the Current Developments archives at left.

Posted by MVHAP at 06:22 PM


A large volume of recently-acquired historical documents concerning the safety of some General Motors vans will be posted in the "Collections" section over coming months. The first postings will be made next week. The new Collection, “GM Van Safety,” will include previously unpublished litigation materials and explanatory commentary.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:28 AM

December 14, 2005


Daimler-Chrysler has reported a recall to NHTSA of 2006 Dodge Durango vehicles. About 16,000 vehicles are involved. According to the notice, “On certain sport utility vehicles with anti-lock brake system (ABS), the ABS control module software program may cause the rear brakes to lock up during certain braking conditions. Consequence: this could result in a loss of vehicle control and a crash could occur without warning. Dealers will reprogram the ABS control module. The recall is expected to begin On december 12, 2005.” Owners can contact Daimler-Cchrysler at 1-800-853-1403,contact NHTSA’s safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (tty1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov for more information.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:34 PM


In a sharply-worded decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. has told DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency that its rule establishing training requirements for truck and bus drivers is “so at odds” with safety information assembled by the government that it should be thrown out and redone. In an opinion chastising the agency for disregarding data and offering “patently illogical” reasoning, the court said the agency “has adopted a rule with little apparent connection to the inadequacies it purports to address.”

The court was acting in a suit brought against the agency by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The rule was supposed to set minimum training requirements for commercial motor vehicle operators, including drivers of trucks and buses. Instead of requiring that drivers have on-the-road training in such things as backing, driving in severe weather, controlling skids and passing other vehicles, though, the rule merely requires training in driver wellness, driver qualifications, hours of service and whistleblower protection.

Posted by MVHAP at 07:02 PM


Methods for rating new-car safety, and the results of those methods, have been making recent news. On the heels of announcements by NHTSA and IIHS of recent crash test results (see earlier stories in the Current Developments archive), IIHS has announced ten winners of its new “Top Safety Pick” award for 2006 models. The choices are made on the basis of the group’s highly publicized crash tests. Spread across three size categories, they are, in the “large” category, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, its twin, and the Audi A6; in the “midsize” category, the Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy, Audi A3, Audi A4, Chevrolet Malibu, VW Passat and VW Jetta, and in the “small” category, the Honda Civic. The full results are HERE. But meanwhile, in a detailed press release, Volvo challenged the usefulness of what it called the “one crash test” approach to rating vehicle safety performance.

“Designing vehicles with Real World safety is Volvo's methodology and priority. Excelling in one particular nation's governmental or third party tests is not. In third-party tests, such as the recent American IIHS Top Safety Pick Awards, or the NHSTA Crash Tests, vehicles are ranked based on the performance of front, side, and rear crashes. These rankings are based on results from one test vehicle, at one impact speed, and one angle of impact. While any form of testing can be a positive step, safety is a MUCH more complex subject than just one single crash test.”

Volvo compared its “holistic” approach to safety to a decathlon: “A decathlon athlete must perform well in different 10 events to win first prize. While that means they are not 'world class’ in one particular category, it also means they are the BEST all-around athlete. That is how Volvo views the field of safety. While each government and third party test will only address one type of impact, at one speed, in one event, Volvo considers the consequences of real world factors.”

Elsewhere on the ratings scene:

--Forbes has published a listing that it calls “The Least-Safe Cars of 2006.” The listing is based on IIHS test results. “Most cars in NHTSA's crash tests achieve ratings of three stars or higher on tests in which five stars is the top rating, but the IIHS does not hesitate to hand out ratings of "poor" when cars merit them. NHTSA gives out the occasional sub-three-star rating, but a three-star rating tends to be as low as it goes.”

--In “Making Sense of Safety Ratings,” the Chicago Sun-Times cites both IIHS and NHTSA crash tests results as useful sources of information, but notes some confusion:

“…no car makes both lists. Why is that? The government hasn't yet tested most of the cars that won awards from the IIHS -- just two of them, in fact. And the IIHS hasn't rated the Hyundai Sonata or any 2006 SUVs. The Honda Civic, which won a gold award from the IIHS, received four out of five stars in the government's rollover test. Results of government crash tests haven't been released. The VW Passat, which won a silver award from the IIHS, received four of five stars in the government crash tests and four stars in its rollover test. The Honda Odyssey minivan, which received five stars in the government's crash tests, failed to win an award from the IIHS because it didn't score well in the institute's rear-impact test, a test the government does not conduct. In fact, no minivan won an award from the group.”

--In its January issue, Consumers Digest (not to be confused with Consumer Reports) will criticize NHTSA and IIHS ratings, according to a press release put out by the publication.
“NHTSA is criticized for an out-of-date scheme in conducting its frontal-crash test program. IIHS is chided for being more concerned with testing vehicles to evaluate for potential for insurance claims rather than overall crashworthiness. Other methodology concerns include an inability to compare results of one vehicle to those of another in a different size/weight class; side-impact testing on NHTSA's part that isn't designed to evaluate injury to a car occupant's head; NHTSA's dependence on vehicle dimensions rather than actual test-driving performance to compute rollover ratings. Neither group's ratings consider how well a given vehicle can help motorists stop, steer or otherwise maintain control to avoid getting into accidents in the first place.”

Posted by MVHAP at 06:48 PM


A court order sealing documents showing Volvo roof-strength testing and designs that provide greater occupant protection than those of Ford, which now owns Volvo, has been challenged by Public Citizen.

Representing the advocacy group, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice filed the challenge with a Florida court where the documents exhibits were introduced as evidence in a public trial, Duncan v. Ford Motor Company, a Jacksonville Florida state court case. The exhibits remained publicly available in the clerk’s office for weeks after the trial, generating nationwide news coverage. Ford eventually asked the trial court to seal the exhibits, relying on a pretrial gag order. In May 2005, the trial court granted Ford’s motion, barring further public access.

The documents are believed to have an important bearing on NHTSA’s current rulemaking to modify FMVSS 216, its roof crush standard. (See related stories in this and earlier archived articles in "Current Developments".) According to Public Citizen, they show that throughout the late 1990s, Ford successively weakened the roof of its Ford Explorer and that the vehicle has an extremely low margin of safety in rollover crashes.

"Testing documents from Volvo, which became a Ford subsidiary in 2000, also demonstrate that a strong roof can protect occupants in a rollover, and that, in developing its SUV, the XC-90, Volvo used a much stronger dynamic test to examine roof strength and the interaction of safety systems in a rollover,” the group says in its statement concerning the court challenge. [http://www.citizen.org/hot_issues/issue.cfm?ID=1244]

Posted by MVHAP at 06:35 PM


Early next year, www.AutoHazardsInfo.org will post ratings from The Car Book of 2006 model cars on our website. The ratings, along with other essential and detailed information about new-model motor vehicles, will be published in full in the forthcoming edition of The Car Book, which is made available in cooperation with the Center for Auto Safety. Ratings for 2005 models are already available on this site by going to the "Your Vehicle" section.

Posted by MVHAP at 06:27 PM


A newly-released NHTSA study, "Contrasting Urban and Rural Fatal Crashes, 1994-2003,” finds that there are approximately 42 percent more fatal crashes in rural areas compared to urban areas, but that there are fewer vehicle miles traveled in rural areas than urban areas. “In addition, fatal rural crashes are more likely to involve multiple fatalities, rollovers, and more trucks. Fatal rural crashes more often occur on curved roadways and have greater vehicle damage. Head-on crashes are more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas.” It also reports that the length of time for emergency medical services to arrive at the scene is longer in rural areas than in urban areas. The study is an update of an earlier similar analysis released in 1996.

Posted by MVHAP at 06:19 PM


A recent research note published in NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts series stresses that despite gains made in motor vehicle crash injury control, crashes are still the leading cause of death to Americans from ages 3 to 33 and, because of their their lethal impact on children and young adults, rank third behind cancer and heart disease in terms of lost years of life for Americans of all ages. “Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes as a Leading Cause of Death in the United States, 2002” is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics as analyzed by NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

Posted by MVHAP at 06:12 PM


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched investigations into the following:

--Reports of brake light failures on the 2003-2005 Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series trucks. A possible short circuit may occur in a wiring harness that could blow a fuse that provides power to all brake lamps.

--2005 General Motors Corp. minivans after an owner of an Uplander reported that the windshield wiper motor crank damaged a wiring harness which caused the headlights to fail. About 57,000 models of the Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza, Pontiac Montana SV6 and Saturn Relay are affected by the probe. GM sent a bulletin to its dealers in saying some owners "may report a stall and/or no crank, no start condition after the wipers are used."

--Potential safety hazards in Chrysler/Dodge Grand Caravan/Town & Country Minivans involving possible failure of front air bag crash sensors. The preliminary investigation involves about 410,000 vehicles.

--2000-2001 models of the Mercedes-Benz S Class sedans with reported failure of the instrument panel to illuminate.

--Complaints that the tire valve stems fail in 2002-2003 Hyundai Sonata sedans, leading to tire deflation. The preliminary NHTSA investigation involves 93,000 vehicles. The complaints involved tires deflated while traveling at highway speeds.

To check on specific details of these investigations and the vehicles they cover, go to NHTSA’s defect investigation search site at and follow the directions.

Posted by MVHAP at 08:11 AM