“If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Friday, June 6, 2008

NHTSA Proposes Two-side Roof Strength Test

It’s a bit surprising, even for me, that rollover crashes account for about 10,000 deaths annually. I always thought it was side-impact collisions that caused more casualties. As I was reading the automotive news online, I chanced upon a couple of write-ups about a proposed rewriting of decades-old regulations that deal with roof strength standard. And I thought to myself that it isn’t a bad idea; in fact I fully support it. It addresses the problem of rollover crash casualties. The problem is, there is conflict between a number of groups, and this proposed action may not even come to fruition. I say, just give it a try. Anyway, you can read the article I’m talking about below, or you can visit the site by clicking here.

David Shepardson reported for the Detroit News Washington Bureau:

NHTSA has been grappling with updating the current regulation for more than a decade. In January, it stiffened its August 2005 proposal to require a two-sided roof strength test, which would have the effect of requiring tougher roofs. Automakers oppose the double-sided test, saying it is unnecessary. They have also sought more time to comply, noting the expense of redesigning vehicles.

A Senate panel on Wednesday featured sharp criticism from senators who argued NHTSA's proposal is inadequate, saves too few lives and shouldn't pre-empt the ability of vehicle owners to file lawsuits in state courts.

Safety advocates also argued NHTSA's proposal is inadequate, noting it is expected to save only up to 44 lives and 800 serious injuries a year.

"If there were as many fatalities in plane crashes as there are in just rollover crashes, there would be overwhelming public outcry," said Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and head of Public Citizen, a group that lobbies for auto safety regulations.

Toughening vehicle roofs is aimed at helping people survive rollover crashes, which account for more than 10,000 deaths annually, according to federal reports. Rollovers represent 3 percent of crashes, but account for one-third of all vehicle deaths.

NHTSA is considering making its final proposal tougher than its amended proposal issued in January, officials said. NHTSA is planning to issue a final rule by the congressional deadline of July 1. NHTSA's current proposal would require that a roof withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the unloaded vehicle weight while maintaining sufficient head room for a buckled-in average-size adult male to avoid being struck, up over the current 1.5 times standard. NHTSA also would extend the requirements to vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, from the current 6,000 pound requirement.

NHTSA is considering at least one alternative proposal: a single-sided test with a stronger overall roof strength of around 3 times. NHTSA said in 2005 that a 3-times standard would cost automakers at least $1.1 billion more than the $95 million annually for the 2.5 requirement.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., chairman of the subcommittee on consumer protection, insurance and automotive safety that held the hearing, told NHTSA that it's "overstepping" its bounds by including pre-emption, which makes it harder for consumers to sue in state courts. "I would strongly encourage NHTSA to back off," he said. Other senators also were critical of that aspect. "Why does NHTSA feel compelled to crush the rights of states?" asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said NHTSA should back a tougher standard or Congress should write its own.

James Ports, NHTSA's deputy administrator, said the agency had made no final decisions on the roof strength regulation.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. essentially wrote the regulation that's been in effect since 1973 after their fleets failed NHTSA's first proposed standard in 1971.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit's Big Three, Toyota Motor Corp. and others, said automakers should have a multi-year phase-in schedule to comply, rather than meeting the complete requirements beginning in the 2012 model year or later. It also argues the double-sided test isn't necessary.

NHTSA has maintained that of the 10,000 rollover deaths annually, stronger roofs would save about 476 lives, compared to as many as 5,000 lives saved through electronic stability control, which would prevent many rollovers from happening. Safety advocates contend that roof strength plays a role in a greater proportion of rollover deaths and injuries.