December 31, 2006


Pressure is building on NHTSA to issue a substantially strengthened standard (FMVSS 216) governing the ability of roofs to withstand crush in rollovers. The issue is critically important, especially for SUVs, which have hazardously high rollover propensities and are especially in need of roof structures and seat belts that optimally prevent occupants from being injured. Safety groups are opposed to proposed NHTSA rulemaking to slightly upgrade the standard, while car companies complain that the proposals are unreasonably stringent. (Search earlier Current Developments archives for “FMVSS 216” or “roof crush.”)

Recent developments in the rollover-roof crush debate have included these:

● At a Washington press conference, two safety advocacy groups, the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, demonstrated a test device, the Jordon Rollover System, for “analyzing vehicle roof strength and rollover crash protection under real-world conditions.” The dynamic test involves dropping an axis-mounted rotating vehicle on a section of roadway moving underneath; the roof strikes the road as it would in a real-world rollover. “JRS tests are realistic and highly repeatable,” the safety groups noted. “Dynamic tests – those that put a vehicle in motion to mirror real-world crashes – provide the best measure of a vehicle’s capability of protecting occupants in a rollover… The JRS also can test the effectiveness of seat belts, side curtain air bags, window retention and door latching, and can lead to better vehicle design to prevent ejection of occupants.” NHTSA uses dynamic tests for frontal and side crash standards, but for its roof strength standard uses only a static test in which pressure is applied to just one side of the vehicle’s roof.

● The advocacy groups released results of a JRS test of a Volvo XC90 SUV, which “has a stronger roof and performed well compared to other vehicles.” They said the tests “prove that safer vehicles are on the market that can withstand the forces of rollover crashes and protect the occupants.” Information about the XC90’s performance in rollover crashes was previously unavailable because Volvo kept its own detailed test results secret under pressure from the Ford Motor Co., which purchased Volvo in 1999, the groups said. A spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying said the safety groups hadn't provided any scientific data to back up their claims for the JRS dynamic test performance. "We agree with NHTSA's conclusion that there's no scientifically acceptable, dynamic roof strength test procedure that's superior to the current procedure," he said.

● The Volvo report, “Rollover According to Volvo,” that had previously been kept secret under pressure from Ford, was released by the Center for Auto Safety and submitted to NHTSA. The report expresses Volvo’s design goal for roof crush prevention and restraint system performance in rollovers as, “No contact between roof and occupant.” Volvo earlier had claimed that the report, despite being made public in a lawsuit, was protected and therefore should not be placed in NHTSA’s public docket, but it has dropped its objection to the report’s release.

● GM and Ford, both of which have faced numerous lawsuits for injuries sustained in rollover-roof crush incidents, have announced initiatives suggesting they are paying greater attention to the need to reduce rollovers. Stories in the Detroit News and on ConsumerAffairs.com, among others, report that, for instance, GM opened a new rollover crash-test center and announced plans to provide rollover airbags in future car models, while Ford said it planned to strengthen roofs in its rollover-prone models: “Ford, which is facing more than $250 million in lawsuits involving SUV rollovers since 2004, told NHTSA that some versions of 11 models of its vehicles will have roofs 20 percent stronger than required,” ConsumerAffairs said.

Posted by MVHAP at December 31, 2006 11:56 AM