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  #1  
Old 01-15-2003, 08:21 AM
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Spiderm0n Spiderm0n is offline
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Exclamation More evidence on the danger of SUVs

Auto-Safety Czar Warns Drivers of SUV Dangers

A Rise in Fatal Rollover Accidents Prompts
Regulator to Seek Action From Car Makers
By KAREN LUNDEGAARD
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


DETROIT -- The nation's top auto-safety regulator said sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks -- among the most popular and profitable vehicles sold in America today -- aren't safe enough and that consumers should think twice before buying one.

Jeffrey W. Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said SUV drivers are especially vulnerable to fatal rollovers because the vehicles' high center of gravity makes them more likely to tip during sudden maneuvers. Marking an intensified campaign to boost SUV safety, Dr. Runge warned that if auto makers don't make these vehicles safer and put more head-protecting air bags in them, the government could step in to mandate changes.

"The thing that I don't understand is people, when they choose to buy a vehicle, they might go sit in it and say, 'Gee, I feel safe,' " said Dr. Runge, who was an emergency-room physician for 20 years before taking over the top NHTSA job in 2001. "Well, sorry, but you know gut instinct is great for a lot of stuff, but it's not very good for buying a safe automobile." Dr. Runge said his agency is considering new performance standards that would push auto makers to install more safety technology in vehicles, particularly to deal with the risks from rollover and side-impact crashes.

Increased Fatalities

Rollover accidents accounted for just 3% of all U.S. motor-vehicle accidents in 2001, but they caused nearly a third of all vehicle-occupant fatalities, Dr. Runge said. An SUV occupant was three times as likely to die as a result of a rollover than an occupant of a passenger car, he said. Moreover, fatalities in single-vehicle rollovers increased in 2001 by 22% to 8,400 deaths, with pickups accounting for the biggest gain, an increase Dr. Runge called "astounding."

Dr. Runge's comments come at a time when auto makers are facing increasing criticism of SUVs and trucks, which surged in popularity in the U.S. during the past decade. Environmental groups blast large SUVs because they consume more fuel than minivans or cars. Other groups argue their high fuel consumption deepens America's dependence on Mideast oil.

But Dr. Runge's concerns, presented in a speech at an auto-industry conference and in an interview, represent perhaps the most serious challenge to auto makers' light trucks and SUVs. That's because the NHTSA has the power to force changes in vehicle design that could cost companies money for such new devices as rollover sensors and head airbags. Companies could find it difficult to pass all these costs on to consumers, who have shown themselves to be very cost conscious.



Bully Pulpit

As NHTSA administrator, Dr. Runge has occasionally used the bully pulpit to champion certain causes, comparing drunk driving to child molestation at a 2001 news conference. But when it comes to rulemaking, the agency and the Bush administration have taken a softer line. Last month, for example, the NHTSA proposed raising fuel-economy standards on sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks by roughly half a mile a gallon each year in the 2005-2007 model years, despite complaints from environmentalists that the industry could be prodded to go much further.

Major auto makers' reactions were mixed. General Motors Corp. said that head airbags are a feature the auto maker would like to put in all vehicles but can't afford to because its competitors don't. "GM would be supportive of NHTSA in its attempt to determine whether this is a regulatory necessity," said GM spokesman Jay Cooney. "If it was, it would level the playing field for every auto maker."

But Ford Motor Co. opposed the NHTSA's possible intervention. "As a general rule, we don't believe the way to introduce new technologies is to have it mandated," said Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio. "We believe it should be customer driven."

Dr. Runge said that among his top priorities for rule-making are rollover prevention and crash-compatibility issues. Crash compatibility refers to the mismatch between tall-riding SUVs and pickups and lower-riding cars. When a large pickup broadsides a car, for example, the car's occupants are 26 times as likely to die as the occupants of the pickup. That is more than three times as high as the rate in car-to-car crashes.

The NHTSA chief said airbags that protect the head are an effective safety tool in rollover accidents, according to the agency's limited research on the issue so far. One primary benefit, is that the airbags, which typically deploy from above the door and hang down to cover at least part of the window, help keep occupants from getting thrown out of the vehicle, which is critical to their protection in rollovers. Head airbags, which are also called side-curtain airbags or roof-rail airbags, are standard on many luxury cars but are often expensive options on mass-market vehicles, if they are even available.

Dr. Runge praised the growing number of so-called crossover vehicles that offer SUV styling and passenger room in a vehicle with a lower center of gravity and wider stance. "That's going to result in a vehicle that's more resistant to rollover," he said. "Responsible car companies will do this in the absence of the federal government. They're already at work."

An administration official familiar with Dr. Runge's thinking said the NHTSA chief "knows you can never go against market forces. But he thinks more can be done to educate the public that you have to take extra precautions" when driving a sport-utility vehicle. "I've never heard him say 'we've got to regulate this industry tougher,' " the official said. But the official added that the agency could still propose new regulations. "We're looking at a variety of things," the official said, adding that Dr. Runge's speech was approved by senior officials at the Department of Transportation, which oversees the NHTSA.

Ford offers a head-airbag system, which the company calls a safety canopy, as standard equipment on just three vehicles -- the Volvo XC 90, and the Lincoln Navigator and Aviator. As an option, the system costs $650 on the Ford Expedition and $560 on the Ford Explorer or Mercury Mountaineer. The safety canopy drops down from the roof, covering the side windows and staying inflated for up to six seconds in rollover accidents.

Ford also has side airbags that protect both the head and torso available on most of its vehicles, usually as an option. But Ms. Tatchio, the Ford spokeswoman, said that very few customers ordered the side airbags as an option.

GM offers its latest head airbags as standard equipment on just two vehicles -- the Saturn L series and the Cadillac CTS -- and as an option on just two more Saturns. Several other vehicles offer combination head-and-torso airbags. Toyota Motor Corp. sells side-curtain airbags as an option for $500 on its Sequoia SUV.

GM safety chief Robert Lange said the No. 1 auto maker plans to roll out head airbags in more vehicles, although this will often be as an option. He noted that in GM's research, the costs of head airbags "balance well against the safety benefit."
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Old 01-15-2003, 08:45 AM
Guest84 Guest84 is offline
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Many of you probably were too young, but anyone remember when the "roll-over" factor was in hot debate over the Jeep back in the late 60's, early 70's? Still didn't prevent people from buying them.
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Old 01-15-2003, 10:54 AM
PropellerHead PropellerHead is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ripsnort
Many of you probably were too young, but anyone remember when the "roll-over" factor was in hot debate over the Jeep back in the late 60's, early 70's? Still didn't prevent people from buying them.
Ahh the CJ5, wasnt it?.. People loved 'em.. Great thing about them was that if you rolled 'em back onto the wheels, they would just hose off the dash and drive it away. You, of course, being a free spirited jeep driver weren't wearing the "lap belt" and were flung into the trees leaving paramedics with a whole new set of challenges.
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