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Rollover Rating Information Program Still Fatally Flawed

August 9, 2004

Rollover Rating Information Program Still Fatally Flawed

Statement of Joan Claybrook,* Public Citizen President

The new rollover scores and revised presentation released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can be valuable to drivers and car buyers, and we compliment the agency on improving its presentation of data to consumers. However, significant flaws remain in the government’s program.

First, the rating information – which lists the chance of rollover in a single-vehicle crash and reveals whether the vehicle tipped during the test – is posted only on the Web when it should be posted by manufacturers on the vehicle’s window sticker at the point of sale. This would ensure that prospective buyers see it (rather than putting the onus on buyers to research the ratings themselves), that the tests are conducted before the vehicles are sold and that every vehicle is tested.

Second, the rating system, in which vehicles are given between one and five stars, creates categories so broad that two vehicles can receive the same rating but have widely varying rollover risks, and even the most rollover-prone vehicles are awarded an inflated score. Some vehicles whose wheels lifted off the ground during the latest round of tests (the Ford Escape, the Mercury Mariner) received three stars, and one tippy model of the Toyota Tacoma received four stars. Further, the on-road (“dynamic”) test counts for very little of a vehicle’s score and may enhance a score but not downgrade it. A better system would grade vehicles A to F.

NHTSA’s tests can be useful. It was during these tests that the government discovered a potential defect in the Saturn VUE, prompting the company to recall the vehicles earlier this month. It is troubling, though, that NHTSA omitted any mention of the VUE in the information released today, which would have been a peerless opportunity to publicize the problem.

Consumer information is always a good step, but NHTSA should issue a minimum rollover safety standard to ensure that vehicles do not roll over as they do now. Even today, manufacturers can make vehicles as tippy as they want because NHTSA safety standards are silent on rollover propensity. This must be changed. The public deserves better.

*Joan Claybrook was NHTSA Administrator from 1977-1981.