Harris, a Pittsgrove, N.J. resident, was driving his Ford Econoline
during a family vacation when he was hit by a truck, causing it to
rollover. As a result, he is now a quadriplegic. He came to Washington
DC recently to denounce the goverment's proposed new roof crush safety
standard because his Econoline, along with 70% of vehicles on the road,
already meet this meager standard. Yet 27,000 people annually are
killed or seriously injured in rollover crashes.
“I have to live with the consequences of
a government roof strength standard that is way too low,” Harris said.
“It’s time for citizens like us to be heard and for the government to
enact a law that forces auto manufacturers to build vehicles that are
safer, stronger and will increase the chances of people walking away
from an accident.”
NHTSA is proposing to increase the force that a vehicle’s roof
must withstand in tests to 2.5 times the vehicle’s unloaded weight, up
from the current 1.5 times. The increase is misleading, however,
because NHTSA also has proposed changing the test requirements to allow
greater roof intrusion. According to an analysis by Steve Batzer, a
professional engineer and director of the Engineering Institute in
Farmington, Ark., the average required increase in roof strength under
the proposed rule amounts to requiring a roof to withstand just 1.64
times the vehicle weight, as measured by the current standard.
“This proposed standard does not meet the public’s expectation
that solid science is used as the basis of new safety standards,”
Batzer said. “Further, it does not ensure that the solid majority of
average-height, belted occupants can be protected from significant roof
crush in the event of a high-speed
The agency contends that strengthening roofs will add weight to
vehicles and increase the propensity for rollover, but this is a
canard, Claybrook said. The agency has been unable to document that an
increase in vehicle weight would increase the risk of rollovers.
Further, manufacturers can strengthen roofs without adding weight,
because many light-weight materials exist.
Other key problems with the proposed roof crush rule include:
• It largely ignores the fact that a strong roof is crucial to
preventing people from being ejected from vehicles that roll over.
Including the benefits of preventing ejection would justify a much more
stringent standard on a cost-benefit basis.
• The new test does not
apply force to the roof in a manner that ensures injuries would be
prevented in a real-world crash. It continues to use a static test in
which weight is pressed on one side of the roof. Instead, NHTSA should
require a dynamic “dolly roll” test, in which vehicles are rolled off a
fast-moving dolly, to simulate the injuries that occur in real-world
crashes. This is the best way to test what happens in rollover crashes
to a vehicle’s roof, windows, belt system, side air bags and occupants.
The dolly test is already routinely used by auto manufacturers and is
spelled out in FMVSS 208 (air bags, belts) as a voluntary standard
since the 1970s.
• The proposal fails to comply with an August 2005 congressional
mandate for safety upgrades to both the driver and passenger sides that
requires both sides of the roof be tested. Instead NHTSA calls for just
one side to be tested. This measures what happens only in the first two
quarter turns of a rollover. But the most serious injuries occur in the
third and subsequent quarter turns.
• The agency proposal relies on windshields to support roofs in
rollovers, but in real world rollover crashes, windshields shatter,
drastically reducing roof strength.
• The cost-benefit analysis is riddled with errors.
• The proposal lacks a scientific basis. The agency looks at
vehicles after rollover crashes, analyzing roof intrusion, rather than
analyzing what happens during a crash. Roofs are elastic and spring
back, so analyzing post-crash intrusion is irrelevant to understanding
how occupants are injured.