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Proposed Rollover Test Inadequate, Won’t Protect Consumers

May 25, 2000

Proposed Rollover Test Inadequate, Won’t Protect Consumers

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

We have been waiting for 15 long years for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to propose a stability standard for vehicles, particularly sport utility vehicles (SUVs). While we are pleased that the agency has finally acted, they’ve only done half the job. Rather than issue a minimum safety standard that all vehicles must meet, NHTSA has chosen to issue only a consumer information rating system, which will not require safer vehicles.

Today’s action on rollovers is long overdue. In 1986, Rep. Tim Wirth petitioned the agency to issue a safety standard to limit rollover potential for all vehicles. The agency refused. In 1991, Congress required NHTSA to conduct rulemaking on rollover protection. NHTSA started, issuing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for rollover prevention and rollover protection in addition to consumer information. The result? In 1994, NHTSA proposed merely a notice of consumer information — a weak response from an agency that had acknowledged the increasing danger of rollovers. Still, nothing became even of this. The consumer information proposal withered.

Today, we are facing yet another consumer information proposal that, remarkably, resembles what Wirth proposed in 1986. It calls for a “static” stability test that would rate vehicle stability on mathematical measurements of tire-track width and vehicle height. The test results are to be purely informational. But unfortunately, consumers won’t have access to this vital information at the point of sale. And manufacturers won’t be required to do a thing to make their vehicles less prone to rolling over. Only public embarrassment might cause vehicle redesign.

Fifteen years ago, a static test might have made sense as a first step. Today it simply doesn’t. We need a dynamic test, that is, a real-world test in which a vehicle is driven on the road. NHTSA could do this quite cheaply by test-driving vehicles destined to be crashed in the New Car Assessment Program tests.

The need for a strong standard is pressing. Each year, 9,700 people die in rollovers. Many of these fatal crashes involve sports utility vehicles, which are more prone than cars to rolling over. In addition, we need rollover crash protection achieved by a strong roof crush standard, improved door latches and hinges to prevent people being ejected and a side impact air bag standard.

It’s taken 15 years to get us back here, to square one. At a minimum, this rule should be issued immediately to be followed by a minimum safety standard to prevent any more tragic, unnecessary deaths.