Roof-Crush Standards Fall Short

Patrick Parker, whose truck rolled over in an accident, leaving him crippled
Dena and Patrick Parker were at home on the range, hiking along the north Texas prairie, tending to their horses.

But, as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, life changed when Patrick hit a deer, and his truck rolled over.

"I saw the truck, and I was just, I didn't know what to think," he says. "I thought that was terrible. How did I live?"

The roof of his super-duty Ford truck crumpled like tin foil. It broke his neck, instantly paralyzing him.

"He could have walked away had the roof not collapsed," says Dena.

The Parker's Ford truck met federal standards, but critics say those standards are way too weak.

When it comes to rollovers, "roof crush" is a factor in nearly 7,000 serious injuries or deaths each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Currently, vehicles pass a federal strength test where a mechanical arm applies gradual pressure to one side only. But critics say in reality, a roof gets much tougher punishment.

Now safety officials are about to strengthen roof standards for the first time since the 1970s. How much they're not ready to say.

"Suffice it to say that the roofs in future vehicles will be stronger by some measure," says Dr. Jeffrey Runge of the NHTSA.

U.S. automakers are lobbying against tougher standards, claiming passengers would be hurt even if the roof didn't crush. But European automakers like Volvo have taken the opposite approach, building stronger roofs.

According to a company promotional video, "the roof strength of the XC90 exceeds the legal requirements in the USA by more than 100 percent."

Ford now owns Volvo, so Ford has vehicles with two different roof standards.

That irony wasn't lost on Patrick Parker's lawyer. He used Ford's own test video to make his own side-by-side comparison: On the left, a Ford truck similar to Parker's and on the right, a Volvo. The Volvo's roof holds up like a champ. The Ford truck doesn't. Ford's engineer was asked which vehicle he'd put his own family in.

"If I had to pick between one of the two, without knowing everything, I'd pick the Volvo," says Richard Vanker, Ford Body Engineering Manager.

The Parkers hope tougher roof standards planned for all vehicles will spare others the same fate.