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An even longer wait for a satisfactory roof crush standard?

Photo by Frank RogersRemember earlier this month when Public Citizen and other consumer advocates trekked to the Hill to tell a Senate committee that the National Highway Safety Administration’s proposed roof crush standard is woefully inadequate?

Now, reports have emerged stating NHTSA might not even make its July 1 deadline for submitting the proposal. The Detroit News, Automotive World and Consumer Affairs have reported that the agency plans to ask Congress for an extension in order complete its research and address concerns and questions among automakers and senators.

According to Consumer Affairs, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters received a letter from three Senators asking for a delay.

“We are writing to express our concerns with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposed rule on vehicle roof strength,” the letter stated. “We also write to encourage you to extend the current deadline for issuance of the final rule and set a new date for that purpose. …We believe that an extension is necessary to best protect the American public.”

It’s not as if NHTSA has been speeding along on this issue. Congress requested the agency to write a new roof strength standard back in 2005; the current standard is 35 years old.

Given the problems Public Citizen has noted with the current standard and NHTSA’s proposed standard, the fact NHTSA wants to take more time to draft its proposal could be good news for those concerned about the more than 10,500 deaths per year from rollover crashes.

During her testimony in front of the Senate committee, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook noted that estimates show NHTSA hasn’t made any real attempt to correct the problem of rollover fatalities — NHTSA has estimated its proposed standard would save at most 476 lives per year. (To do the math, that means the proposed standard would only address 5 percent of rollover fatalities.)

But whether NHTSA will decide to ask for an extension, and whether the agency will use that extension to take into account roof strength and other safety measures into its proposed standard, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, check out Public Citizen’s petition in support of auto safety, which already has more than 1,500 supporters.