Schumer Urges Federal Investigation Into Mechanically Flawed Police Cars That Have Killed 15 Officers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May, 28, 2003

Two police officers in the U.S. endured accidents in the last ten days when their Crown Victoria police cars were rear-ended and then exploded; Yonkers officer died in similar accident last December

Schumer urges National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to investigate why the cars are susceptible to fiery accidents, and how to better remedy the problem; Previous attempts to retro-fit the cars have had little impact

With two accidents involving Ford Crown Victoria police cars occurring over the last ten days, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to re-open and broaden an investigation to determine why the car and its sister models catch fire upon rear-end impact. Schumer said that now that over a dozen officers in the country, including one in Yonkers in December, have been killed in Crown Victoria rear-end accidents, the problem must be investigated immediately.

"This is a no-brainer. No one should have to explain how important it is to make sure our police officers have cars that are safe. We know that there's a problem, and now we need to figure out what we need to do to solve it," Schumer said. "If that means changing cars so that a different model is used, so be it. Time is of the essence."

Since 1983, at least fifteen police officers have been killed in Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) rear-end collisions, and more than double that number have been burned or injured.

Daniel De Federicis, President of the New York State Troopers PBA, said, “How many more police officers will burn to death before we finally admit this is a huge problem that is not going to go away? We have the ability to stop these tragedies but the powers involved are not implementing them."

On May 22, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper making a traffic stop was killed when his car was rear-ended by a truck and he was trapped inside the burning CVPI. Just four days earlier, a Dallas police officer escaped death when his Crown Victoria cruiser burst into flames after being rear-ended on the westbound lanes of I-30. The officer had just stepped out of the car to help a motorist in a stalled vehicle when a truck slammed into the back of his car and caused it to explode.

The CVPI is the most common vehicle used by our nation’s law enforcement. CVPI’s constitute over 80% of the New York State Police’s cruiser inventory.

New York State Trooper Robert Ambrose was killed near Yonkers in December, 2002 in one of two incidents involving cruisers catching fire after rear-end collisions. In response, Ford Motor Company performed a nationwide retro-fit of a safety shield aimed at protecting the gasoline tank. Schumer said that three explosions this month in retro-fitted cars make it clear that the safety shields are inadequate.

Schumer said the NHTSA should continue to investigate why the cars are especially susceptible to rear-end explosions and what can be done to remedy the problem. Because NHTSA's previous suggestion, to retro-fit the cars, did not prevent this month's deaths Schumer said the NHTSA should consider whether there should be a nationwide moratorium on the purchase of any additional CVPI’s until remedial measures – like installing fuel bladders used in the auto racing industry, and fire suppression systems like those used in military vehicles – are proven effective. Schumer said the NHTSA should also investigate whether all auto manufacturers need to increase and intensify testing the front, side and rear of vehicles marketed for police use.

“More people have been killed in Crown Victoria fires than were killed in notorious Ford Pinto fires over twenty year ago," Schumer said. "We must go back to the drawing board to figure out a solution before another avoidable death occurs. The job of law enforcement is dangerous enough. These heros and their families should not have to worry about their vehicles causing them harm.”

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May 28, 2003
Dr. Jeffrey Runge
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Administrator Runge:

I am writing to request that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) open a comprehensive investigation into possible structural defects that cause the Ford Crown Victoria to explode upon rear-end impact despite recent safety upgrades.

As one of the nation’s most popular cars, any potential design flaws in the Crown Victoria that may cause dangerous accidents concerns us all. Tens of thousands of civilian vehicles, including models of the Mercury Grand Marquis and the four-door model of the Lincoln Town Car, share the Crown Victoria’s design, and the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) is the most common vehicle used by law enforcement agencies nationwide. In New York State alone, the CVPI comprises over 80% of the State Police’s cruiser fleet.

Tragically, at least fifteen police officers have been killed in CVPI rear-end collisions since 1983, with more than double that number being burned or injured over the same period. To put the problem in perspective, there have been more people killed in Crown Victoria fires than were killed in the notorious Ford Pinto fires over twenty year ago.

The CVPI’s accident track record led to an NHTSA probe in 2002 and eventual nationwide retro-fit for the police car by Ford Motor Company. Upon police department request, Ford offered to provide safety shields for each car in order to protect the gasoline tank in the event of a rear-end collision. Unfortunately, it appears that this innovation has not resolved the explosion problem. Just last month, at least three retro-fitted CVPI’s exploded in separate rear-end collision incidents in Washington, DC, Dallas and just outside of Kansas City.

Our country’s emerging homeland security strategy places a heavy burden on first responders as the country’s main line of defense. In order to effectively discharge this duty, it is essential that law enforcement personnel feel secure in the equipment they use. I strongly urge you to open a comprehensive investigation into the Crown Victoria’s retrofitted design so that the CVPI’s continuing rear-collision problems may be quickly resolved.

Sincerely,
Charles Schumer
U.S. Senator