CAS Response to Ford

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

July 22, 2002

Susan M. Cischke, Vice PresidentEnvironmental & Safety EngineeringFord Motor CompanyOne American RoadDearborn MI 48126-2798

Dear Ms. Cischke:

Contrary to your letter of July 15, 2002, the issue facing Ford and the American public is the safety of 3 million 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car ("Crown Victoria") with fuel tanks that explode in crashes where occupants survive the crash trauma but burn to death, often because the doors jam and prevent escape. As tragic as are the four fire crashes of Crown Victoria Police Interceptors that burned three officers to death in Arizona they are but a fraction of the 32 fire deaths in the 75 known fatal fire crashes of these vehicles since 1992. By focusing on the 3 deaths in Arizona, Ford tries to avoid the obvious; more people have died of burn injuries in Crown Victorias than in Ford Pintos and Bobcats ("Pinto").

The parallels between the infamous Pinto and the Crown Victoria are uncanny. Both have the same problem – a gas tank located behind the rear axle in the crush zone where any number of objects can puncture the tank, dislodge the filler pipe or severe the fuel lines. Both identified hex bolts as a potential puncture mechanism. Ford defended both using selected statistics from FARS, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Both failed internal Ford tests. Both resulted in numerous product liability lawsuits and national media attention. Both resulted in safety defect investigations which Ford fought bitterly. Ford sold 2.2 million 1971-76 Pintos and 3.0 million 1992-01 Crown Victorias. At the time of the May 1978 defect determination on the Pinto fuel system, there were 26 known burn deaths in fire crashes. There are 32 known burn deaths in 1992-01 Crown Victorias before the 2001 FARS data become available.

The fundamental principle of crash fire safety is that if you survive the trauma of a crash, you should not die by fire. In the 1970’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) researchers concluded that available technology such as safe tank location, shut off valves, steel fuel lines and bladders existed to protect occupants who survived 65 mph rear impacts from fire deaths. In 1981, an appellate court found Ford’s failure to incorporate fuel system improvements so reprehensible that it sustained an $8 million punitive damage award in a 56-65 mph rear impact of a Mustang II.1The full size Crown Victoria has such ample rear crush space that occupants can survive 80 mph rear impact because the crumpling rear end and seat backs absorb and spread the crash forces. If there is an ensuing crash fire, surviving occupants can burn to death. 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.

Ford’s own statistics presented to Arizona in 2001 show the 1992-97 Crown Victoria has a fatal rear crash fire rate 3.6 to 4.8 times higher than the comparable 1985-96 Chevrolet Impala/Caprice.2 People survive crashes in Caprices when they burn to death in Crown Victorias.

As damaging as these statistics are, Ford does not provide any specific information on the crashes underlying the data and whether all crashes are included. Based on 1991-1999 FARS data, Ford cites 7 fatal fire rear collision in 1993-97 Crown Victoria Police vehicles and 11 in 1992-97 Ford Victorias. Are these inclusive or exclusive of the other? The only way to tell is to identify the individual FARS cases and Ford doesn’t do that. The Center found 67 fatal fire crashes involving 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Grant Marquis and Lincoln Town Car in FARS for 1992-2000 and has identified every case so that they can be examined. CAS has identified 8 fatal fire crashes not in FARS including all three of the Arizona fatalities. In the interest of public safety, CAS calls on Ford to be as forthcoming and identify each and every fire crash in 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car known to Ford. CAS also calls on Ford to release all claims of confidentiality and make public all responses to NHTSA in the investigation the agency has initiated, SQ01-014.

Ford has a long established history of denying there is a safety defect when not only is there a safety defect but it’s a huge safety defect which Ford later had to recall in the face of a public outcry. From the Pinto to the ignition switch on 8 million vehicles to the Firestone tires on Explorers, Ford’s first response is to deny there’s a safety problem. The tragedy in all of the above cases, and in the Crown Victoria fuel tank fires, is that innocent people die while Ford delays. once again, the issue is no longer whether Ford is going to do a recall but when is Ford going to do a recall. Sincerely,Clarence M. DitlowExecutive Director

1 Ford Motor Co. v. Stubblefield, 171 Ga.App. 331, 334, 319 S.E.2d 470, 476 (1984).

2 The difference is 4.8 times if Ford includes police vehicles in the Chevrolet fleet. NHTSA Investigation 1071-74.

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