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Auto activist Rev. Lawrence Harris tells why crush standards are not enough.

Rev.Lawrence Harris, "I have to live with the consequences of a government roof strength standard that is way too low."
See his statement and a photo of his crushed roof car.

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Rev. Lawrence 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.

December 13, 2018


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