Addressing rollover safety, the government last week proposed that new cars and trucks undergo new tests to measure the strength of their roofs.
With more than 10,000 people dying every year in rollovers, transportation officials modified a plan first issued in August 2005 that would require a vehicle’s roof to withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight.
In the new proposal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked for public comment on whether it should require vehicles to undergo tests on both sides of the roof, instead of on just one side over the front seat. The test would cover vehicles of up to 10,000 pounds.
The current requirement forces vehicles to withstand direct pressure of 1.5 times the weight and applies to vehicles of 6,000 pounds or less, leaving out many popular sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
“This proposal will build on our efforts to improve vehicle safety, will save lives and will protect people from injury,” said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in a statement.
Safety groups, concerned of the safety consequences of rollovers, want tougher rules that would require the roof to withstand 3.5 times the vehicle’s weight and have the vehicle tested in motion.
Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and president of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, said the proposal was “still inadequate” because it failed to consider ways of keeping motorists inside the vehicle in a rollover crash.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and seven other companies, said it would review the proposal, which was issued by NHTSA after the close of business hours.
The Alliance said in a statement that it “supports efforts to enhance real-world safety in all types of motor vehicle crashes, including rollovers.”
Rollovers are extremely deadly, accounting for one-third of all traffic fatalities despite constituting only a small fraction of crashes. In 2006, 10,698 motorists were killed in rollovers, a 1.6 percent decline compared with the previous year.
Last year, the government said it would require automakers to install anti-rollover technology called electronic stability control on all vehicles by the 2012 model year. The equipment helps drivers avoid skidding along slick roads or maintain control of their car when swerving to avoid an unexpected object in the road.
A final rule on roof strength is expected next summer, the agency said.
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