Rollover Deaths Were Preventable; Government Needs to Require Crashworthy SUVs

June 18, 2001

Rollover Deaths Were Preventable; Government Needs to Require Crashworthy SUVs

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

For months, the nation has watched Ford and Firestone behave like two children in a schoolyard. We need to move beyond the finger-pointing and address the real reason nearly 200 people died and more than 700 were injured in Ford-Firestone crashes.

Many of these individuals didn t need to lose their lives or be so severely hurt. They suffered, though, because of three key failures. Ford and Firestone have focused on two failures, and we agree with both companies. Firestone produced a faulty tire, as Ford has said. And Ford manufactured and zealously marketed its Explorer despite knowing it was prone to rolling over, like its precursor, the Bronco II.

A third cause exists: the lack of key safety standards by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Explorer was not designed to help its passengers survive a rollover crash, and Ford knew it. When the Explorer rolls over, the roof crushes inward, causing devastating head and neck injuries. The sides can buckle inward, the windows splinter and the occupants can be tossed about the cabin or ejected. The human damage caused is barbaric and unnecessary. Race car drivers are frequently in rollover crashes, yet they often walk away unscathed. Why? Their cars have roll cages. They wear five-point seat belts. Their heads are protected.

Automakers should be made to install similar safety systems in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) as well as other vehicles. NHTSA should set dynamic standards for roof strength. The agency also should require manufacturers to install pre-tension belts that hold people in place during rollover crashes, seat structures that don t fail, advanced glazing safety glass in side windows, and side-impact air bags, ceiling air bags or other extra padding. Currently, no such requirements exist.

Further, NHTSA has never set a limit on how tippy a vehicle may be. Automakers can make a vehicle as rollover-prone as they want; no federal rule exists to stop them. The agency last year produced a toothless information rating system, but it requires nothing of manufacturers. This absence of a rollover standard has fostered the creation of an entire class of popular but dangerously unstable vehicles.

It s time to tackle the real issues in this tragedy. Let s move out of the schoolyard and get to work.

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Read Joan Claybrook’s written testimony, submitted for the Record to the Subcommittees on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection and Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States House of Representatives