Statement of Benetta Buell-Wilson
San Diego, California
March 23, 2004
My name is Benetta Buell-Wilson. I am 49 years old and live in San Diego. On January 19, 2002, I was driving my Ford Explorer SUV along Interstate 8 in California. A metal part flew off the RV in front of me, bounced on the road and careened toward my windshield. As I swerved to avoid it, my SUV tipped and rolled over, and the roof crushed in on me. My back was shattered, my legs were broken, my spleen was injured and all the ligaments in my knees were torn. People could not pull me from the wreckage. When my rescuers finally cut me out, I was air-lifted to the hospital, where doctors told my husband and children that I wouldn’t make it through the night.
I am now permanently paralyzed. There are some people who are involved in rollover crashes and walk away. So I was left with the lingering question, “Why couldn’t I walk away from this?” As I began to research other rollover crashes involving SUVs, I learned about the vehicle’s structure and how roof crush seemed to be a common theme in the crashes. I learned that the entire structure of the vehicle weakens after the first impact of a rollover and that government rules about roof strength are incredibly weak.
I am speaking out today because I think auto manufacturers are misleading people about the safety of their vehicles. They market to families with children, but average consumers don’t know how weak the standards are for the strength of roofs during a rollover crash like mine. The current roof crush test is not a real test.
In an ideal world, companies would take pride in being at the forefront of safety. Americans are supposed to be innovative, but too many auto companies are thinking only about profits. That won’t change unless you take away the choice. They are going to make their vehicles safer only if the government mandates it.
Telling my story makes me realize that I am lucky to be able to tell it. Most people who have had these kinds of accidents are dead.