August 19, 2005

US proposes plan to strengthen automobile roofs

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Under pressure to reduce deaths and
injuries in rollover crashes, U.S. auto regulators proposed new
standards on Friday that would strengthen vehicle roofs and
extend greater protection to bigger sport utility vehicles and
other light trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also
sought comments on possible options for improving safety belt
technology, which safety and consumer experts say is needed to
reduce occupant contact with collapsed roofs as well as
ejections in rollovers.

"It will take a comprehensive strategy to reduce the
staggering number of rollover deaths on the nation's highways,"
the nation's top auto safety regulator, Jeffrey Runge, said.
"Improving roof strength is an integral part of that plan."

Slightly less than a quarter of all U.S. traffic deaths
occur in rollover crashes. There were more than 42,000 people
killed on U.S. roads in 2004.

Sport utility vehicles include some of the most popular on
the road. But they are more prone to roll in single-vehicle
crashes due, in many cases, to a high center of gravity and
narrower wheelbase. Auto manufacturers have made some design
changes to reduce rollover.

Safety advocates have pressed for design changes and new
regulations to make SUVs safer. Congress has also mandated
changes to reduce rollover deaths.

More than half of those killed and injured in rollover
crashes were not wearing safety belts, regulators said. But
estimates show that among belted occupants there were nearly
600 deaths and 800 serious injuries in crashes where victims
hit a collapsed roof.

The safety agency estimates the new standard will prevent
13 to 44 deaths and up to 800 injuries per year.

The new standard would require that a roof withstand force
equal to 2.5 times the vehicle's weight and still maintain
sufficient headroom for an average adult male. The current
standard requires a force calculation of 1.5 times the vehicle

The current standard applies to passenger cars and small
SUVs, vans and pickups that weigh up to 6,000 pounds (2,722
kg). The proposed change would cover vehicles up to 10,000
pounds (4,536 kg).

Regulators estimate the change will cost the industry $88
million to $95 million per year, or nearly $12 per vehicle.

The auto safety agency will decide on a final regulation
after a 90-day comment period.