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New Auto Roof Rule Would Override State Auto Safety Standards

Consumer Group Denounces Proposed Auto Roof Standard

WASHINGTON, DC -- December 9, 2005 -- A proposed change in the rule about automobile roof strength fails to protect drivers and passengers involved in rollover accidents, according to the consumer organization Public Citizen (Press Release, November 21, 2005). The group charges that 70% of existing vehicles already meet the standards of the proposed rule, which would require the roofs to be only slightly stronger than they are today.

Each year, rollover crashes cause 24,000 injuries and 10,000 deaths. Fatalities may occur when the roofs of vehicles crush in, disabling the occupants. Sometimes the crushed roof causes the windows of the vehicle to blow out or the doors to spring open, and people are violently ejected.

The current rule, which was first issued in 1971 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), requires a vehicle roof to withstand the force of 1.5 times the vehicle's weight. The proposed standard would require it to withstand 2.5 times the vehicle weight. However, this would be "a paltry improvement" according to Public Citizen, because NHTSA also would change the test requirements to allow greater roof intrusion. As a result, the actual force that the roof must withstand only comes to about 1.64 times the vehicle weight.

Other troubling aspects of the proposed rule include:

  • The new standard would only save about 13 to 44 lives out of the 10,000 persons that die every year in rollover crashes, according to NHTSA's own admission.
  • The rule would override all stricter state requirements concerning auto roof standards.
  • The proposed rule would prohibit someone from suing manufacturers for injuries sustained from a crushed auto roof if the vehicle met the new minimum government standard.

"NHTSA is squandering an unprecedented opportunity to save lives by reducing rollover deaths," commented Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "This is an egregious betrayal of the public trust. It is technologically feasible and cost-effective to make vehicle roofs much, much stronger. The government has an obligation to require auto manufacturers to do so."

Lawsuit Asks for Release of Internal Auto Industry Documents

While a storm is brewing over the proposed NHTSA rule, Public Citizen has filed a lawsuit challenging a court order that seals exhibits in a Florida auto rollover case (TLPJ Press Release, December 1, 2005). In Duncan v. Ford Motor Company, a 26-year old woman passenger died when a Ford Explorer SUV rolled over and its roof caved in. The case resulted in a $10.2 million jury verdict for the plaintiff. It also produced evidence that Ford knew about how stronger roofs could prevent deaths in rollover crashes. Public Citizen wants this evidence to be made public, especially while the NHTSA reconsiders auto roof requirements.

"These documents are at the core of this vital public safety issue," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "They show that Ford made the Explorer's roof treacherously weak, and that Volvo has outlined a solution for all automakers that would prevent the ongoing tragedy of needless deaths in rollover crashes. The time has come for Ford to come clean about its role in rollover deaths, especially now that new roof crush safety standards are being drawn up."

Finding Out About Auto Roof Safety

You can read the full text of the motion challenging the Duncan secrecy order on the web site of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. You will need to obtain a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file. If you do not already have this software, you may download a free copy at the Adobe Acrobat web site.

Also see Personal Injuries for information about automobile crashes as well as other accidents. Please feel free to contact our personal injury lawyers if you would like to discuss a claim. We have over 20 years of experience in this area of law, and our initial consultation is at no cost. Also, we do not charge an attorney fee until we have successfully completed your case.

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