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NAS Study on Rollover Rating System a Breath of Fresh Air

Feb. 21, 2002

NAS Study on Rollover Rating System a Breath of Fresh Air

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

For the countless victims of rollover crashes, today?s study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a breath of fresh air. Its findings mirror what we said in testimony more than a year ago — that the government?s star-based system with numerical calculations of vehicle rollover propensity is wholly inadequate and uninformative. Without precise consumer information, auto manufacturers can continue to tell customers that more rollover-prone vehicles are safer than they really are.

The National Research Council report confirms that consumers need more detailed information than the government is now providing. The current rating system, in which vehicles are given between one and five stars, creates categories so broad that two vehicles can receive the same rating but have widely varying rollover risks. That?s hardly sufficient, and it?s more likely to mislead than inform.

The report also underscores that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should quickly fulfill its congressional mandate to develop a “dynamic” rollover test on which to base useful consumer information. Such tests, in which vehicles are test-driven, are vastly more effective than “static” tests, those based solely on measuring vehicle track width and center of gravity height.

Certainly, it?s good to warn people about how dangerous their vehicle is. But NHTSA does this only by posting the ratings on the Web, not by requiring manufacturers to provide information to consumers when they buy cars. However, it would be much better to design safer vehicles. For that reason, we again call on the government to create an effective rollover standard to ensure that manufacturers build vehicles that are less prone to tipping over.

The NAS rightly calls on the government to stop enabling manufacturers to pussyfoot around the truth about their vehicles. We need to go one step further, though, and require auto makers to give consumers better vehicles in the first place.