Backer of Rollover Tests Disputes Results

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SUV's > SUV Safety

By Harry Stoffer
Automotive News / June 14, 2004

The fishhook exam: Does NHTSA grade it too easily?

WASHINGTON - The government's rollover tests of new cars and trucks do little to help consumers choose safer vehicles, Consumers Union says.

The organization lobbied long and hard for a testing program. It thought it had achieved its goal in late 2000. Congress, reacting to Firestone tire failures and related rollover crashes, directed safety regulators to test for rollover tendencies.

The first results were made public in February. More were issued last week. Of 55 vehicles rated, none received fewer than two stars in the five-star rating system. Most vehicles got three or four stars.

Yet seven SUVs and two pickups tipped up on two wheels during testing.

Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted a good, tough driving test.

The fishhook maneuver consists of a sharp turn one way, then the other, at speeds up to 50 mph.

But the group contends NHTSA:

  • Gives too little weight to the driving test in scoring vehicles.
  • Does not present rollover information in an easily understood manner.
  • Fails to penalize vehicles that tip up on two wheels.

    The group urges its readers to avoid any vehicle that tips up.

    "The net effect of the new ratings program is to bury the new, dynamic test information and prevent customers from obtaining any really useful information regarding which vehicles are more stable and forgiving in an emergency situation," says Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union.

    On June 3, Consumers Union asked a Senate subcommittee to direct NHTSA to overhaul the program. It also has complained directly to NHTSA.

    Congress appears unwilling to deal with the rollover issue again soon.

    NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson says the agency is seeking "ways of better communicating the ratings" to the public.

    Tyson says that NHTSA is unlikely to give more weight to the driving maneuver in calculating ratings. The agency places much more emphasis on the static stability factor - a calculation of the ratio of a vehicle's track width to the height of its center of gravity.

    Agency officials believe the factor is a better indicator of vehicle stability in real-world conditions.