Ford Cruiser Probe Sought

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Senator calls for new investigation into Crown Vic after death

WASHINGTON -- The recent death of a Missouri state trooper has prompted a New York senator to call on the federal government to reopen its investigation into Ford Motor Co.'s Crown Victoria, the most popular police car model.

Sen. Charles Schumer sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday, urging the agency to look into the issue of deadly gas tank explosions on the Crown Victoria.

"We know that there's a problem, and now we need to figure out what we need to do to solve it," the New York Democrat said in a statement. "If that means changing cars so that a different model is used, so be it. Time is of the essence."

Police unions and some political leaders have complained about the safety record of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. About 350,000 of the vehicles are on the nation's roads as patrol cars for approximately 80 percent of police departments.

Since 1983, 14 officers have died in crashes when their Crown Victoria's gas tank caught fire after being hit from behind.

The most recent occurred in western Missouri last week, when a 25-year-old trooper died in a fiery wreck while pulled over on an interstate. Last December, New York state trooper Robert Ambrose was killed on a Yonkers highway when his patrol car was struck from behind. Ambrose's family is suing Ford.

The automaker has denied the cars are dangerous, but initiated a program of retrofitting older models with plastic shields designed to better protect the gas tanks.

Ambrose's vehicle did not have the shield; the victim in the Missouri wreck, Trooper Micheal Newton, did have a shield on his vehicle.

A 10-month probe by the NHTSA determined last November that vehicles with the Crown Victoria's fuel system involved in a rear crash caught fire 8 percent of the time, compared to 6.3 percent with the fuel system used in the comparable Chevrolet Caprice.

NHTSA said the car meets current federal standards that require a vehicle to withstand a rear crash at 30 miles per hour without leaking fuel. The agency also said the vehicle did not leak fuel during a test at 50 miles per hour, which the agency has proposed to be the new standard.