Administration's proposed roof crush rule won't save lives

Photo by Frank Rogers

David Garcia (top) was 29 when he was in a rollover crash that left him a quadriplegic. On Wednesday, he spoke before a U.S. Senate committee to urge Congress to come up with a stronger roof crush standard for vehicles. A new standard proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is so inadequate it makes you wonder whether anyone at the agency has a clue. The proposal, which automakers would have to meet when they design their vehicles, is barely an improvement over the existing rule — and that hasn’t changed in some 30 years. David Shephardson of the Detroit News quotes Sen. Mark Pryor as commenting that if the NHTSA proposal doesn’t save a significant number of lives then the feds “really haven’t accomplished much.”

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook also testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. She slammed NHTSA for coming up with a proposal that seems more intent on saving automakers money than saving lives (about 10,500 people die each year in rollover crashes). You can find her testimony on the Public Citizen site.

We’ve written about the roof crush rule before (here and here).

Shepardson also writes that Sens. Pryor and Claire McCaskill, two strong consumer advocates, are concerned about language in the NHTSA proposal that would make it harder for citizens to hold automakers liable for defects and negligence:

Senators were especially critical of one aspect of the proposal, which would preempt most state court lawsuits in connection with roof strength. NHTSA has included nearly identical language in other regulations seeking to make it much harder — if not impossible for consumers to sue in state courts.

“Why does NHTSA feel compelled to crush the rights of states?” asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “There is a plot somewhere in this administration so they can wipe out the rights of Americans.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., chairman of the subcommittee on consumer protection, insurance and automotive safety, told NHTSA that it’s “overstepping your bounds” by including preemption.

“I would strongly encourage NHTSA to back off because I think it is a big mistake,” Pryor said. He called the hearing to get input from NHTSA, automakers and safety advocates about whether the roof strength upgrade went far enough.

This is the same pre-emption concept that actor Dennis Quaid testified about last month.