Posted in: Commentary,
by Gregg Laskoski on Apr 10, 2012 11:17 AM
Rollover accidents are not frequent so you may be wondering why the federal government is worrying about your car's roof...
It's because rollover accidents, while only accounting for 3 percent of serious crashes,are actually involved in 33 percent of all vehicle-occupant deaths.
In the U.S. about 10,000 people die each year in rollover accidents and 24,000 are severely injured. We can certainly reduce those numbers and obviously a key factor in how well a vehicle can protect you in a rollover is the strength of its roof.
Under prior standards, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted roof-crush tests by pressing down on a plate against the edge of a vehicle's roof. The roof has to withstand a force equal to 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle, up to a limit of 5,000 pounds without the plate moving more than five inches.
According to Consumer Reports, a revised standard enacted in 2009 begins to become phased in with the 2012 model year and applies to all new vehicles by the 2017 model year. Under the new standard, vehicle roofs are now required to withstand 3 times the vehicles's weight. Under that force, the roof should not bend so far that it would touch the head of a median-height male test dummy.
How far the roof could crush without touching the head of the dummy would depend on the dimensions of the vehicle. The new roof regulations also requires, for the first time, that vehicles over 6,000 pounds meet a roof-crush standard, however, the standard for the heaviest passenger vehicles will remain at 1.5 times the vehicle's weight.
Consumer Reports(CR)says the new standards are a step in the right direction but should have gone much further to reflect real-world rollovers. CR says the standard should specify 4 times the vehicle's weight instead of 3 times. And, CR also says that every passenger vehicle, including the heaviest ones, ought to be subject to the same rigorous roof-strength standard.
The worst part of NHTSA's new regulations, CR says, is that it contains language that may limit lawsuits against automakers. Under the new rule, injured occupants cannot make any legal claim that automakers had any obligation to make the roofs stronger than the standard requires, even where state courts had previously held manufacturers to a stricter standard. Consumer Reports says that gives automakers less incentive to build roofs as strong as they are able to.
And, believe it or not, Consumer Reports said NHTSA actually turned down petitions brought by some safety-advocacy groups that had asked the agency to extend its new roof-crush standard to vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Who is NHTSA protecting? It's not you and me.