Report: New Questions About Ford Explorer Safety

Updated at 5:50 p.m. ET

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quietly reviewed incidences of rollovers of Ford Explorers in 2006 but never released details of the review to the public, according to a report by Myron Levin on Fairwarning.com, a website dedicated to health, safety and corporate conduct.

The 2006 review came in the wake of a 2001 scandal for Ford, in which rollovers of Ford Explorers triggered by Firestone Tire blowouts claimed 271 lives in the US.  Experts determined the Firestone tires couldn't sustain the heavy SUVs, and were subsequently recalled.

Yet, as Fairwarning.org reports, NHTSA took a new interest in Ford Explorers in 2006, as rollovers in those vehicles continued to claim lives. In March of that year, NHTSA asked Ford for additional information about 235 fatal Explorer accidents that killed 304 people between 2003 and 2005. Ford supplied the NHTSA with the data, which showed that some of the rollovers were caused by faulty tires, but the cause of others was unknown.

Why NHTSA asked for the data and why the details of the review were never released to the public remains a mystery.

But by way of possible explanation, Fairwarning.org points to a statistical analysis which shows that there have actually been more fatal rollovers in Ford Explorers after the 2001 tire recall than before it.

For its part, NHTSA says that the 2006 review of Ford Explorer crash data was purely exploratory, telling Fairwarning.org in a statement: "In this case, NHTSA did not find a basis for opening an investigation."

In a statement today, Said Deep of Ford product communications told CBS News, "Many years of field data and testing by numerous government safety agencies and independent organizations confirm the safety of Explorers."

Mr. Deep also disputed the statistical analysis that brings the safety of Explorers into question, asserting that the data comes from a firm that is a resource for personal injury lawyers who sue car companies. "Those analyses are flawed and unscientific. When properly analyzed, the data show there are no unique tire issues."

NHTSA did not respond to requests for comment from CBS News.

  • Emily Rand

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