Senator Clinton Call For Increased Safety Measures For Crown Victoria Police Vehicles

March 3, 2003

Washington, D.C - Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today released a letter calling upon the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take immediate steps to protect the thousands of police officers - across the state and the country - who are currently driving Crown Victoria police vehicles. In a letter sent last week to DOT Secretary Mineta and NHTSA Administrator Runge, Senator Clinton expressed her concerns about the safety of the Crown Victoria vehicles and asked that both agencies work with law enforcement to address such issues as vehicle lighting, safety shield installment and impact safety standards.

"I am writing you because three New Yorkers, including a New York State Trooper, recently lost their lives, apparently as a result of a post-crash fuel leak in a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicle, a special Crown Victoria vehicle used by law enforcement," Senator Clinton wrote in her letter.

"I understand and appreciate that the Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted an investigation regarding Crown Victoria police vehicles, but given this most recent tragedy, I ask that you continue to monitor the safety of Crown Victoria police vehicles and work with law enforcement, particularly the International Association of Chiefs of Police, on a number of traffic safety issues of common concern," Senator Clinton wrote.

"Every hour of every day, hundreds of thousands of men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line to protect us from harm. We should do all we can to ensure that as our law enforcement officers do their jobs, they are not be put unnecessarily in harm's way," Senator Clinton wrote.

There are approximately 350,000 Crown Victorias patrolling cities and highways. Such cars make up eighty percent of all police vehicles. Reports show that over the past twenty years, at least thirteen police officers nationwide have died after crashes in which their Crown Victorias caught on fire. The recent death of State Trooper Robert Ambrose in a fiery crash on the state Thruway in Yonkers raised new questions about the safety of the Crown Victorias when they are hit by another vehicle from behind at high speeds.

In her letter, Senator Clinton specifically calls on the DOT and the NHTSA to:

§ Continue to monitor the safety of Crown Victoria police vehicles;

§ Work with law enforcement, particularly the International Association of Chiefs of Police on a number of traffic safety issues of common concern, such as the lighting of police vehicles;

§ Assist with retro-fitting all vehicles with "upgrade kits" or safety shields. These shields are provided by Ford at no cost and are recommended to reduce the likelihood of post-crash fuels leaks that cause explosions and fires. While most of the Crown Victoria police vehicles driven in New York state have been retrofitted with these "safety shields", many vehicles across the country have not;

§ Consider the proposal to raise the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 301 for police vehicles from 30 mph to 50 mph. The current standard requires a vehicle to withstand a 30 mph rear collision without excess fuel spillage. Many of the crashes involving police officers however, have been at speeds higher than 30mph. Given the nature of police work, it seems likely that Crown Victoria vehicles will continue to be involved in "high-speed incidents," providing ample justification for a raise in the standard by which their vehicles are tested.

[A copy of Senator Clinton's letter is attached]

February 26, 2003

The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta
Secretary
Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing you because three New Yorkers, including a New York State Trooper, recently lost their lives, apparently as a result of a post-crash fuel leak in a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicle, a special Crown Victoria vehicle used by law enforcement. I understand and appreciate that the Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted an investigation regarding Crown Victoria police vehicles. However, given this most recent tragedy, I ask that you continue to monitor the safety of Crown Victoria police vehicles and work with law enforcement, particularly the International Association of Chiefs of Police, on a number of traffic safety issues of common concern, such as the lighting of police vehicles. I also believe it prudent for NHSTA to consider the proposal to raise the FMVSS No. 301 standard for police vehicles. With these measures, I hope that traffic safety for our law enforcement will be significantly improved.

As you know, the Ford Crown Victoria is the most popular model used as a police car. Indeed, there are approximately 350,000 Crown Victorias patrolling cities and highways. Such cars make up eighty percent of all police vehicles. I understand that over the past twenty years, at least thirteen police officers nationwide have died after crashes in which their Crown Victorias caught on fire.

I am aware that in November 2001, the Office of Defects Investigation conducted an investigation into fuel leaks following rear impact crashes involving Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car, and Mercury Marquis vehicles for model years 1992 through 2001. According to information received from the ODI, this investigation was opened following reports from a number of law enforcement organizations regarding the potential for fuel leaks and fires in Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicles following rear impact crashes and in response to a Technical Service Bulletin that was issued by Ford Motor Company on October 22, 2001. In that Bulletin, Ford recommended two courses of action to reduce the likelihood of post-crash fuel leaks from high-speed rear impacts. It appears that one of those courses of action is to install an "upgrade kit" or safety shield, provided by Ford at no cost. Efforts are now underway in New York State to install these safety shields in all Crown Victoria police cars. Any assistance you could provide in expediting the retrofitting of these cars would be greatly appreciated.

The summary of the ODI investigation indicates that the investigation was closed based on a number of findings, including, for example, that the cars at issue meet the current Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS No. 301) for fuel system integrity, which requires a vehicle to withstand a 30 mph rear collision without fuel spillage in excess of established limits. Another finding is that in almost all the car crashes investigated, the post-crash fuel leaks occurred in "very high-speed incidents." For this reason, the NHTSA has proposed amending the FMVSS No. 301 standard to require a 50 mph rear impact, although the ODI indicated in its findings that Ford has conducted tests in which the vehicles' fuel system did not leak in 50 mph rear impact tests. Clearly, given the nature of police work, it seems likely that Crown Victoria vehicles will continue to be involved in "high-speed incidents." That is why I support the effort to amend the standard.

Every hour of every day, hundreds of thousands of men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line to protect us from harm. We should do all we can to ensure that as our law enforcement officers do their jobs, they are not put unnecessarily in harm's way.

I would appreciate receiving at your earliest opportunity a report regarding the status of the federal investigation regarding the most recent traffic accident in New York and your efforts to improve the safety of our law enforcement. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours, Hillary Rodham Clinton

CC: Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. Administrator,
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration