CAS New Death Toll & 80+ mph Survivable Crash Technology Letter to Ford

 

September 11, 2002

William Clay Ford, Jr., Chairman
Ford Motor Company
The American Road
Dearborn MI 48121

Dear Mr. Ford:

While Ford delays recalling 1992-01 Crown Victorias, Grand Marquis and Town Cars (hereinafter Crown Victoria) for defective fuel systems which explode on impact, more people die in fiery crashes of these vehicles. While Ford waits on a Ford dominated Technical Panel to make recommendations on technical fixes, private companies have crash tested fixes available today that demonstrate these vehicles can take an 82 mph rear impact from a full-size pickup without a fire. How can Ford Motor Company justify not recalling a vehicle that has burned to death at least 14 occupants of police cruisers since 1993 and at least 15 more civilians occupants of these vehicles. Three more occupants of the striking vehicle died in crashes where FARS listed fire as the most harmful event.

The newly released Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data for 2001 lists 11 more fatal fire crashes involving 17 deaths in the Ford vehicles. Although FARS lists only 1 death as due to fire (a 1994 Lincoln Town Car in New Braunfel TX), autopsy reports show at least 3 more deaths were due to fire and not trauma as recorded by FARS. This brings the terrible toll in Ford Crown Victoria fatal fire crashes to 102 occupants in 83 fatal fire crashes of the Crown Victoria and its Town Car/ Grand Marquis twins.

The independent crash test was performed last month by Goodrich Aerospace at its Hurricane Mesa Test Track, a military testing center in Hurricane, Utah. Using a pusher/rocket sled, engineers crashed a 1970 Ford F-100 pick-up truck weighing more than 4,000 pounds into the rear of a 1999 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) equipped with both a Fuel Safe bladder and a Fire Retardant Panel (FIRE Panel). The pick-up impacted the rear of the Crown Victoria at 81.9 mph. Even though the CVPI contained real gasoline instead of non-flammable Stoddard fluid, there was no fire.1 Neither technology is radical or new. The bladder has been used in Ford's own race cars while the fire retardant has been used for years in military planes and has been tested by the Bureau of Standards in passenger motor vehicles.

Although Ford has tried to mislead the public into believing the fire crashes in Crown Victorias are unsurvivable due to high speed, they are generally survivable because the Crown Victoria has so much crush space and strong seats to absorb the energy of the crash. By placing the fuel tank in the energy absorbing crush zone, Ford converts a survivable 80 mph trauma crash into a fatal fire crash.2 This past 4th of July, Cobb County GA Officer Greg Abbott's 1998 Crown Victoria was rear ended by a 18-wheel truck. The crash jammed the doors and set off a fire ball. Shielded momentarily from the flames by a Plexiglass security screen, Officer Abbott miraculously escaped without a scratch by climbing out the broken passenger window. Arizona Officers Cruz, Fink and Neilson were not so fortunate and died from burn injuries. Living and dying should not depend on luck.

The fundamental principle of crash fire safety is that if you survive the trauma of a crash, you should not die by fire.3 In 1978, CAS commented on NHTSA's 5-year Program Plan to upgrade crashworthiness standards to 50 mph barrier in the future, "NHTSA should also specify the use of fire walls between the gas tank and the passengers compartment to insure that fire or gasoline does not enter the passenger compartment regardless of the impact speed in which the rear end is hit. It would be a sad commentary on the state of vehicle safety if we made vehicle barrier crash worthy at speeds up to 50 mph yet had the survivors burn up in ensuing fires."4 CAS' comments reflected NHTSA's 1971 goal of upgrading and integrating the fuel system integrity standard (FMVSS 301) into the occupant protection requirements of FMVSS 208 which was aimed at 50 mph barrier protection.5 In its Research Safety Vehicle (RSV) Program of the late 1970's, NHTSA demonstrated that 50 mph rear barrier impacts, well over 80 mph impacts into parked vehicles, were survivable crashes with good crash management and fuel system integrity to prevent injury and fire respectively.

With police officers and consumers dying across America in Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car fire crashes, it's time for Ford to do the right thing and recall all these vehicles just as Ford did with the Pinto in 1978. What better way to show that Ford cares about America and its police officers on September 11 than to protect them from death in fire crashes while they protect us.

Sincerely,


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

 

1 NHTSA crashes vehicles at 35 mph into fixed barriers in frontal collision which is equivalent to striking a parked car of similar mass at 70 mph. Most vehicle including the Crown Victoria do very well in these crashes even though the front structure of a vehicle is much more difficult to design to collapse and absorb energy than is the rear of a large vehicle.

2 CAS has repeatedly petitioned NHTSA to adopt this principle into the requirements of FMVSS from 1972 when it sought matching the fuel system crash speed with the occupant protection crash speed to 1993 when it sought a 45-mph rear barrier crash standard and ultimately 55-mph barrier crash protection. Attachment J is CAS' 1993 summary petition to Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.

3 CAS Comments on Five Year Plan for Motor Vehicle Safety and Fuel Economy Rule Making, June 13, 1978

4 The Fuel Safe bladder, lines the fuel tank and enhances its structural integrity, limiting the possibility of fuel spraying if the tank is damaged. The FIRE Panel creates a plume of fire retardant powder around the tank on impact to "inert" the environment and prevent any fuel that does leak from igniting. The FIRE Panel has its origins in advanced military technology that is used to protect the fuel tanks on sophisticated helicopters and aircraft.

5 NHTSA Program Plan for Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, HS 820-163 (October 1971).

 

 

 

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