CAS Response to NCSA re: Crown Victoria Fires

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.

May 30, 2003

Joseph S. Carra, Director
National Center for Statistics and Analysis
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 7th Street SW
Washington DC 20590

Dear Mr. Carra:

This responds to your April 24 letter to the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) about fatal crashes that do not show up in FARS and/or FARS data searches. (Attachment A is CAS’ October 1, 2002 letter to you. Attachment B is a copy of your April 24, 2003, response.)

We want to work with you to resolve the issue of how FARS records fire deaths because we believe a substantial number, if not the majority, of burn deaths are not recorded in FARS. Due to the complexity of doing FARS searches, CAS submits FOIA requests to have the agency do the searches. Thus your statement that “CAS probably missed these cases” is incorrect. Attachment C to this letter is the FARS search done by NHTSA for calendar years including 1998, 2000 and 2001 for the six fire deaths cited in our October 1, 2002, letter to which you responded.

On the Alabama case, subsequent litigation and sworn statements reveal the Corporal’s statement to be wrong as the driver attempted to reenter the vehicle in a vain effort to save the three occupants trapped in the back rather than to restart the car. This case should stay in FARS.

We request clarification as to what you are saying about the deaths of Officers Cruz and Fink in Arizona. The enclosed printouts from NHTSA do not show these crashes. As I understand what you are saying, if a vehicle (as many of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptors were) is parked on the road side and is therefore a “not-in-transport vehicle“, it will not be counted as having caught on fire or as having a Most Harmful Event fire death even though it caught on fire and the officer burned to death. How does one capture these fire deaths for purposes of making policy decisions such as how setting motor vehicle safety standards for fuel system integrity and safety recalls.

Enclosed are two more police reports for cases in FARS involving CVPIs that were parked when struck. Pfc Vincent Julia was parked in a closed lane on the Delaware Memorial Bridge when his 1996 Crown Victoria was struck from behind. The FARS run provided by NHTSA under FOIA lists the Most Harmful Event as vehicle in transport. (Attachment D is the Police Report for Officer Julia’s death which is FARS case 100014 in 1997.) Why is that and how does it square with the two Arizona cases that are not so listed? Similarly, Trooper Robert Smith was parked in an emergency lane in Miami Shores, Florida when his 1996 Crown Victoria was struck from behind. (Attachment E is the Police Report for Officer Smith’s death which is FARS case 121387 in 1997.) Yet here the FARS run provided by NHTSA under FOIA lists the Most Harmful Event as fire. How does this square with the two Arizona cases that are not so listed.

We request an analysis of the six fire deaths in our previous letter plus the two fire deaths in our current letter as to whether these cases were treated consistently. More importantly, does the agency deny that the cause of death for any of the eight individuals was due to fire? If the agency does deny that fire was the cause of death, to what does the agency attribute as the cause of death. For the purpose of FARS, are any (and which of these eight deaths) in FARS? If so, how are they listed and provide a new FARS run for all 1993-2002 Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis with the same search criteria by which you find any of these 8 deaths in FARS. If an officer dies of burns in a parked Crown Victoria off the side of the road which catches fire when struck by another vehicle, will that death show up in FARS and where?

Your cooperation in providing a prompt response to this letter is requested as officers and others continue to die in Ford cars with fuel tanks located in the crush zone of a crash.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

cc: Senator Charles Schumer
Senator John McCain

A – October 1, 2002 letter from CAS to Joseph Carra

B – April 24, 2003 letter from Joseph Carra to CAS

C – NHTSA FARS runs for fatal crash fires

D – Police Fatal Crash Report for Cpl Vincent Julia

E – Police Fatal Crash Report for Trooper Robert Smith