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New Rollover Test a Good Step, But Not Enough; A Standard Is Needed

Oct. 7, 2003

New Rollover Test a Good Step, But Not Enough; A Standard Is Needed

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

The new rollover test announced today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a positive step toward stemming the thousands of deaths and injuries that occur annually in rollover crashes. But what is most needed is a strict safety standard that ensures rollover-prone vehicles are kept off the road.

The new test calls for driving a vehicle in a fishhook maneuver, which involves two tight turns. The steering will be done by a computer, to ensure objectivity, at increasing speeds until wheels lift off the ground. The results will be combined with mathematical analyses to create a final rating. For determining how prone a vehicle is to rolling over, this is a good method. But several problems exist.

First, the agency lacks the money to test all vehicles, so some potentially dangerous vehicles may never be put through their paces. Yet the agency has the authority to require manufacturers to apply this test to all their vehicles and inform consumers of the results. Second, vehicles can receive a miserably low, one-star rating from the government and still be sold. Further, because NHTSA will test for no more than five occupants, not all vehicles will be fully loaded when tested. And one of the most rollover-prone vehicles – the 15-passenger van – won’t necessarily be tested at all.

Consumers will have to do their own research to find out how well the vehicles performed. The ratings will be posted on NHTSA’s Web site but will be nowhere else. There is no requirement that the ratings be posted on vehicles or in the showroom at point of sale.

Finally, NHTSA’s use of stars to indicate a vehicle’s performance in the test – a range of one to five stars – is vague at best and inaccurate at worst. By permitting a wide range of performance variance within each star rating, consumers will not receive complete information about rollover risks.

More than 10,000 people died last year in rollover crashes. Testing vehicles for rollover tendencies is fine, but it won’t stop the carnage. A rollover safety standard was first petitioned for in 1985; it’s high time NHTSA put one in place. This test is a good place to start.