Proposed Roof Crush Rule Fails to Comply with New Safety Mandates

Aug. 19, 2005

Proposed Roof Crush Rule Fails to Comply with New Safety Mandates

Statement of Joan Claybrook,* Public Citizen President

The federal government has missed a golden opportunity to save thousands of lives and mitigate thousands of injuries inflicted when vehicles roll over. It has been more than 30 years since the government upgraded its rules for roof strength, but what it issued today falls tragically short of what is needed to fix the problem of roof collapse in rollovers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is merely rolling over when people need its help the most.

The long-delayed roof crush rule proposed today by NHTSA fails to comply with new safety mandates issued by Congress just last month. The highway funding bill requires roof strength be tested both on the driver and passenger sides of a vehicle. However, the proposed rule tests roof strength only on one side.

Most auto manufacturers already produce vehicles that can pass this very weak test, which requires a roof to withstand 2.5 times its weight. It’s not enough because forces in a rollover crash exceed that amount. Rollover crashes are responsible for about a fourth of all traffic fatalities and about one-third of all occupant fatalities each year. In 2004, 10,553 people died in rollover crashes; roofs crush in during roughly a quarter of all rollover crashes, NHTSA has estimated. And SUV rollover deaths are up nearly 7 percent. It is feasible to make much stronger roofs; in fact, the Volvo XC 90 has a roof that can withstand at least 3.5 times its weight.

The agency still has no plans to require real world crash tests to gauge roof strength, known as a dynamic test. This test is the only way to learn what happens in a rollover crash to the roof, its supporting structures, the windows and the belt system, and of course, to the occupants.

Ensuring that occupants can survive when vehicles roll over is probably the single most effective step that the automotive industry and NHTSA can take to reduce the unacceptable carnage on our highways. The agency should go back to the drawing board and develop a far more stringent test.

* Note: Joan Claybrook was head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.

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For more information about rollover crashes and roof crush standards, click here.