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New Federal Roof Crush Standard Falls Short; Rule is Meager Upgrade Over 38-Year-Old Requirements

April 30, 2009

New Federal Roof Crush Standard Falls Short; Rule is Meager Upgrade Over 38-Year-Old Requirements

Statement of Lena Pons, Policy Analyst, Public Citizen

We are extremely disappointed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) attempt to update its 38-year-old roof crush standard – revisions that have been pending since 2002. The rule released today falls far short of mandating vehicle improvements that will significantly reduce the 10,500 annual fatalities from rollover crashes.

While NHTSA’s new rule does require that both sides of a vehicle’s roof be tested, it continues to rely on a static test, the same kind that has been used since the rule was first written in 1971. This completely ignores what Congress intended in 2005 when it directed NHTSA to consider a dynamic test that puts vehicles under “real-world” rollover conditions. NHTSA never seriously investigated this option.

The new rule mandates an increase in the roof strength for vehicles up to 6,000 pounds – from 1.5 times the vehicle weight to three times the vehicle weight. Vehicles from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds, which were not previously subject to any roof strength standard, would have to withstand 1.5 times vehicle weight. However, the standard for these heavier vehicles, which are often prone to rollover, is no better than the inadequate 1971 standard.

Another important change from the previous rule, which became effective in 1973, is that instead of testing the strength on just one side of the roof, vehicles will now be tested on both sides, as the law requires. This is important because in rollover crashes, the forces are felt differently on the side of the roof that hits the road second. However, the two-sided testing done by NHTSA, which tests a vehicle that is not in motion, does not provide a full picture of what occupants would experience in real-world rollover crashes.

Public Citizen supports a rollover occupant protection standard that uses a dynamic test to look at all the safety features involved in rollover, including a strong roof, side curtain airbags, belt pretensioners, door locks, and the windshield and side window glass. The piecemeal approach that NHTSA has taken to rollover protection does not promote the kind of safety needed to reduce fatalities in rollover crashes, as NHTSA itself has admitted in its analysis.