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Proposed U.S. vehicle roof standard criticized

A U.S. consumer group Monday criticized a government initiative to strengthen automobile roofs as inadequate and urged regulators to take stronger action.
/ Source: Reuters

A U.S. consumer group Monday criticized a government initiative to strengthen automobile roofs as inadequate and urged regulators to take stronger action.

The advocacy group Public Citizen lashed out at new roof standards proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, saying they would do little to protect drivers from being crippled or killed during rollover accidents.

“This proposal falls tragically short,” the organization’s president, Joan Claybrook, said in a statement.

At issue is a proposal the highway safety administration made on Aug. 19, which would make roof-strength standards more stringent and extend them for the first time to cover bigger sport utility vehicles and light trucks.

Estimates show that among belted vehicle occupants there are nearly 600 deaths and 800 serious injuries annually in rollover crashes where victims hit a collapsed roof.

The safety agency estimates the new standard will prevent 13 to 44 deaths and up to 800 injuries per year. It said the change will cost the industry $88 million to $95 million per year, or nearly $12 per vehicle.

The new proposed standard would require a roof withstand force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight and still maintain sufficient headroom for an average adult male. The current standard requires 1.5 times the vehicle weight.

But Public Citizen said the agency’s analysis was fraught with errors. Overall, the group said, the agency’s proposal was really only an improvement to 1.64 times a vehicle’s weight.

Claybrook said regulators could save many more lives by requiring that roofs be able to withstand at least 3 times vehicle weight. That tougher requirement would cost about $43 per vehicle, she said.

Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the traffic safety administration, said agency officials “welcome all comments that will help us write a better regulation.”

However, Tyson also defended the agency’s proposal, saying two-thirds of those motorists who are killed in rollover accidents typically are not wearing seatbelts and could not be saved with a stronger roof.

In addition, Tyson said the agency is concerned that requiring heavier reinforcement of vehicle roofs could make them more top-heavy and prone to roll over.

The industry trade group, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, expressed support for parts of the agency’s proposal, but it said companies should be given a phase-in period for any changes, in addition to the three years the NHTSA is proposing from publication of the final rule.

The trade group also echoed the agency’s concerns that going beyond the agency’s proposed roof-strength standard could make vehicles more top-heavy.