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Roof strength a key factor in rollovers

March 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every year in the United States, more than 10,000 people are killed in rollover accidents, and some 24,000 more are seriously injured. SUVs and pickups are the most rollover-prone vehicles. Some say that tougher standards and more rigorous testing are urgently needed.One thing that can make a big difference is tougher roof strength requirements, but according to Consumer Reports, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been slow to act.

Patrick Parker spends a good part of his day watching television. His activities are severely limited since becoming a quadriplegic. Driving to work seven years ago, Parker steered to avoid a deer and his truck rolled over. The roof flattened. Although Parker was wearing a seatbelt, his spinal cord was crushed, leaving him paralyzed.

"I don't think people consider roof strength as one of their priorities when they buy a car," said Parker.

The NHTSA mandates vehicles undergo a roof strength test. The current NHTSA standard from 1973, now being reviewed, requires a roof to be strong enough to withstand one-and-a-half times a vehicle's weight.

The publisher of Consumer Reports, Consumers Union, thinks the standard should be raised.

"NHTSA proposes raising the standard to two-and-a-half times the vehicle's weight," said Jon Linkov, the managing editor of autos at Consumer Reports. "We think that may be too weak."

Linkov says government testing also needs to be more rigorous.

"We think NHTSA needs to develop a dynamic rollover test, which would take into account safety features such as curtain airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners, and other rollover protection systems," said Linkov.

Consumer Reports says when shopping for a vehicle, make sure it has electronic stability control. When electronic stability control is turned off, a vehicle has a greater risk of rolling over.

As for Parker, raising rollover standards can't happen soon enough.

"If we had had tougher standards for roof strength, I don't think that I would be sitting in this wheelchair right now," said Parker.

Consumers Union is calling for the Obama administration to make the upgrade of the 36-year-old NHTSA rollover standard a high priority. A law written in 2005 had ordered the agency to rewrite the standard by 2008, but that date has come and gone -- and so far the regulation upgrade has been postponed three times.


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