Autos Rated On Rollovers

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, walks into the Queens criminal courthouse with Sean Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, second left; Bell's wounded friends, wheelchair-bound Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, backround second from right, and others on Monday, March 19, 2007, in New York.
AP Photo/Louis Lanzano
Imagine going to the showroom to buy a new car, SUV or truck, and seeing posted right on the windshield the government's rating on the vehicle's probability of getting into a rollover accident.

That's what consumer advocate Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer group Public Citizen, is suggesting as a requirement, in reaction to the government's first-ever publication of passenger vehicle rollover ratings.

It's just a first batch — dozens of vehicles are still being evaluated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — but the ratings do provide an early glimpse at what kinds of vehicles do well and which do not.

As CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr reports, rollovers are the second-leading cause of death on America's highways, a risk underscored by the hundreds of recent crashes involving the Ford Explorer.

"With over 10,000 rollover deaths, this is the most vitally-needed consumer information to be put out to the American public," said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center For Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog organization.

Safety regulators say making the information public will force manufacturers to improve stability, "and I think once they see that the public is going to depend on a ratings system like this as they make their purchases, it's going to drive safer design," said Sue Bailey, an administrator with the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

But automakers say the ratings are too simplistic — relying only on mathematical calculations of a vehicle's height and width.

"It does not include many other factors that might be involved, including weather conditions, driver behavior, suspension, wheels, steering..." said Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

But in an interview with CBS Radio News, Ditlow predicted those problems will be overcome.

"Ultimately, we are going to get a better system," says Ditlow. "We're going to see vehicles that are safer and less likely to roll over in the future, as manufacturers take some of that money they make on SUV profits and put it into better engineering to make rollover-resistant vehicles."

In the batch of ratings released Tuesday — all of model year 2001 vehicles — the Honda Accord was the only one to receive five stars, which is the government's top rating.

Five stars indicates a rollover risk of less than 10 percent in a single vehicle accident, for example, a car running off the road and then flipping over, the scenario for 90 percent of the rollover accidents which happen every year.

The other passenger cars which so far have been rated by the government all got four stars, which indicates a rollover risk of between 10 and 20 percent.

There were quite a few differences among the SUVs that were rated, ith none of the models coming in at either five stars or four stars.

About half of the SUVs were rated three stars, which indicates a rollover risk of between 20 and 30 percent, and most of the rest came in at two stars, which indicates a rollover risk of between 30 and 40 percent.

The two star category includes the Ford Expedition and the Ford Explorer, which were put in the spotlight last year by complaints about Bridgestone/Firestone tires.

Two SUVs wound up with the one star rating — indicating a rollover risk of over 40 percent. They are the four-door models of the Chevrolet Blazer and the GMC Jimmy/Envoy.

Among vans, only three models have been evaluated so far. The Honda Odyssey got four stars, as did the four-door model of the Chrysler PT Cruiser; the Mazda MPV got three stars.

Among light trucks, the highest-rated models were the 4X2 Chevrolet Silverado and the 4X2 GMC Sierra, both coming in at four stars. Six other vehicles came in at three stars.

The government's ratings are based on what's called the "static stability factor," a measure of a vehicle's center of gravity and track width to determine how top-heavy a vehicle is. The more top-heavy it is, the more likely it is to roll over.

Along with the rollover ratings, the feds are also offering some tips on what you can do to improve your chances of surviving a rollover and cut down your chances of being in a rollover:

  • Buckle up.People who wear seatbelts are 75 percent less likely to be killed in a rollover crash compared to those who don't buckle up.
  • Avoid conditions that lead to loss of control. That means driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driving without enough sleep, driving while not paying attention, speeding, or driving too fast for weather or road conditions.
  • Be careful on rural roads. The twists and turns of country roads should tip off the driver to maintain a safe speed and be especially careful to avoid running off the road, where a ditch or embankment could cause a rollover.
  • Avoid extreme or panicky steering. If your vehicle goes off the road, gradually ease the vehicle back on the road and avoid a sharp swing of the steering wheel, which can de-stablize the vehicle. If you go off the road on the highway at a high speed, you are advised to gradually reduce speed and then ease the vehicle back on the highway when it is safe to do so.
  • Proper maintenance of tires. Improperly inflated or worn-out tires can be dangerous and interfere with control of the vehicle, which is the most important factor in minimizing the chances of vehicle rollover. Improper inflation of tires can lead to catastrophic failure and also accelerates tire wear. Worn-out tires can cause the vehicle to slide sideways on wet or slippery pavement and increase the risk of rollover.
  • Proper loading of vehicles. Consult your owner's manual to determine the maximum safe load or your vehicle and the proper distribution of that load, especially when using a roof rack. Keep in mind that any load placed on the roof is above the vehicle's center of gravity and will therefore increase the chance of the vehicle rolling over.
Over 10,000 Americans each year die in rollover crashes, according to NHTSA. Over 60 percent of all the SUV occupants who died in crashes in 1999 died in rollover accidents. By comparison, 23 percent of the total number of people who were in cars and died in crashes in 1999 were killed in rollovers.

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