Lawmakers Must Finish the Job After Ford/Firestone, Enact Top 10 Auto Safety Protections, Including Rollover Prevention

ADVOCATES FOR HIGHWAY AND AUTO SAFETY * CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY * CONSUMERS UNION * CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA * PUBLIC CITIZEN

March 23, 2004

Lawmakers Must Finish the Job After Ford/Firestone, Enact Top 10 Auto Safety Protections, Including Rollover Prevention

 

Victims, Safety Groups Press for Passage of Vital Safety Legislation; Auto Suppliers Demonstrate Safety Technologies; States Ranked on Rollover Deaths

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Saying that lawmakers should finish the job they started after the Ford/Firestone tragedy, safety advocates today highlighted 10 top safety provisions in pending legislation and called for Congress to pass them.

At a press conference in which more than half a dozen crash victims spoke and auto suppliers demonstrated safety technologies available to automakers, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Public Citizen lauded the many provisions in a bill to reauthorize the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Key among them are provisions that would require vehicle roofs to be stronger and vehicles to be less rollover-prone. The bill has passed the U.S. Senate and is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The measures enacted after Ford/Firestone were positive steps, but since 2000, more than 30,000 people have died in rollover crashes,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator. “The provisions this legislation would require have been pending for a generation without action. They go far beyond tire safety and, if enacted, would prevent tens of thousands of needless deaths and injuries. Lawmakers can dramatically improve highway safety by passing this bill.”

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 2 and 33, and fatalities have increased in recent years. In 2002, 42,815 people were killed on the highways, the highest level since 1990. Rollover fatalities accounted for 82 percent of the total fatality increase from 2001 to 2002.

In 2000, in response to the Ford/Firestone tragedy, Congress passed the TREAD Act, which made important improvements in collecting information about defects and upgrading tire safety. But now the government should require vehicles to be more stable and ensure that roofs don’t crush occupants’ heads as they do today, the groups said.

Protecting occupants in rollover crashes is one of the top 10 areas the groups identified as being priorities in the legislation. The others are rollover prevention, frontal protection in crashes where the corners of vehicles collide, side impact crash protection, vehicle mismatch, 15-passenger van safety, child safety (including the use of booster seats, backover prevention technologies and child-sized crash test dummies), tire safety, restraints (such as seatbelts and side head air bags), and better consumer information for new car buyers.

The groups also released a ranking of states in rollover fatalities. Wyoming topped the list with 18.35 fatalities per 100,000 people; New Jersey ranked the best with a .79 fatality rate.

“Americans are dying in record numbers on our neighborhood streets and highways, and yet there are ways to combat this public health crisis,” said Jack Gillis, public affairs director for Consumer Federation of America. “Unfortunately, the most promising federal motor vehicle safety standards to prevent deaths and injuries are stuck in neutral. The bill passed by the Senate directs NHTSA to move the safety agenda forward on these 10 critical issues.”

Also Tuesday, Public Citizen released a report, Keeping the Safety in SAFETEA (available at www.citizen.org), detailing the long history of government inaction on the 10 highway safety provisions. For instance, the federal government hasn’t upgraded the roof strength standard since 1971. It permits manufacturers to test with pressure on only one side of a roof, rather than dynamically testing the whole roof structure, and doesn’t account for the fact that windows often shatter in rollover crashes, dramatically reducing roof strength. This allows manufacturers to market vehicles with flimsy roofs that crush occupants unnecessarily in rollovers. Since the 1970s, NHTSA has done little to improve roof strength requirements. The inaction on this and other matters shows that meaningful government standards, not voluntary industry guidelines, must be issued, the groups said.

At the press conference, seven people who were injured in crashes or who had family members injured in crashes told their stories and echoed the call for lawmakers to act.

“For too many years, SUV makers have been neglectful,” said Syndi Ecker, an Atascadero, Calif. resident who lost her daughter, Amy, in an SUV rollover crash. Ecker was on the phone with her daughter when the crash occurred. “The phone went dead and so was Amy. Please hear my plea to pass the safety legislation and allow others to live.”

Added Dr. Greg Gulbransen, an Oyster Bay, N.Y., pediatrician who backed over and killed his two-year-old son, “I can’t begin to describe the shock and devastation. While SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks are becoming more and more popular, they are also very unsafe in respect to blind spots. We must make vehicles safer to prevent what happened to my family from happening to yours.”

The groups noted that safety technologies are feasible, reasonable and readily available, they said. These include stronger roofs, safety glass, air bags, rollover stability systems, safety belt reminders and backover prevention technologies.

Dave Cook, of Ontario, Canada, credits safety technologies with saving his life. He was in a Volvo that was crushed by an 18-wheeler. He suffered three fractured ribs and a dislocated shoulder, and was trapped in his car for an hour. Cook’s crushed Volvo was on display outside the press conference – “a reminder of the force of the accident and to demonstrate that the design and structure of a vehicle can make all the difference for survival,” he said.

Others highlighted the child safety provisions in the bill: “For too long, children have been an afterthought in the design of motor vehicles,” said Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union. “This bill will help provide a vaccine for keeping our children safe inside or outside of a vehicle.  Some critics of the bill say that the number of children killed and injured in backover incidents, by excessive heat and by faulty power windows are too small to be concerned about.  The numbers may be small but they should be zero.”

Click here to view the entire report.

Click here to view Joan Claybrook’s statement.

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