Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told car manufacturers that they are going to have to make vehicle roofs thicker and stronger if they want to attain top safety ratings. It’s a smart decision and one that needed to be made. Too many injuries occur in accidents where cars flip over onto their roofs, which then collapse. This announcement will help save lives and make our cars safer. Many of us spend as much as 20% of our waking hours in our cars, so we obviously want then to be as safe as possible.
I was in an accident many years ago in which the vehicle I was in flipped. The driver fell asleep and so did I, and when I woke up, we were upside down, careening down the road. There were four of us in the car and fortunately we all walked away unhurt. Luckily, the roof of the car (a Toyota Camry, as I recall) held up nicely and didn’t crumble one iota. Otherwise, I might not be here to write about it.
Carmakers are constantly trying to find new ways to make their vehicles safer. Many use safety as a main selling point, like Volvo, for instance. The smarter manufacturers will tap into this IIHS announcement and leverage it to make their cars safer and more attractive to consumers. As my driving instructor in high school used to say, “Safety is No Accident!”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said last week it will require automakers to dramatically increase the strength of vehicle roofs to receive its top safety pick ratings.
The Virginia-based IIHS conducts dozens of crash tests annually and prods automakers into adding safety features to reduce car crashes injuries and deaths. Its ratings are widely used by consumers and touted by companies that win them. Automakers often make design changes to boost their ratings.
Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a proposal to require a vehicle roof to withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle weight while at the same time maintaining sufficient head room for a buckled-in, average-size adult male to avoid being struck. That's up from the current standard of withstanding a force equal to 1.5 times the vehicle weight. But NHTSA hasn't finalized its regulation.
Lund said starting in the fall IIHS will require automakers to have a 4.0 rating to win a top safety pick.
"We see significant safety benefits in stronger vehicle roofs," Lund said.
"The government is moving slowly and they are going to continue to move slowly."
He said NHTSA has "clearly undercounted" the number of injuries and deaths that can be prevented by stronger roofs.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents Detroit's Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and six others, supports increasing the standard to 2.5 times the vehicle's weight, but says going beyond that is unwarranted.
"The important thing is to do it right," he said.
"This has been a very controversial rule. It's been hard in terms of policy decisions," Medford added. "There's just a lot of attention on this."
He said the alliance was interested in learning more about IIHS's new rating system. NHTSA's proposed update also would cover vehicles that weigh up to 10,000 pounds, versus the current 6,000-pound requirement.
The proposal is aimed at helping people survive rollover crashes, which account for more than 10,000 deaths annually. Rollovers represent 3 percent of all crashes, but account for one-third of all vehicle deaths.
General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. essentially wrote the regulation that's been in effect since 1973 after their fleets failed NHTSA's first proposed roof standard in 1971.
NHTSA studied the issue for more than a decade before proposing in August 2005 to increase the strength of vehicle roofs and broaden the number of the vehicles covered.
NHTSA said then that upping the standard to 2.5 times the vehicle weight would save 13 to 44 lives and prevent up to 800 injuries annually. The agency said it would require that both sides of the vehicle roof be tested, and in January, NHTSA updated its proposal to include a double-sided test. Currently, only one side is tested.
The Auto Alliance also noted that increasing roof strength requires making roofs heavier -- reducing fuel efficiency -- and raising costs. It supports increasing the standard to 2.5 times, but with significant modifications to the proposed rules, including a phase-in schedule.
"Drivers and passengers are better served by a system of enhancements including improvements in vehicle stability, ejection mitigation, roof crush resistance as well as road improvement and behavioral strategies aimed at consumer education," alliance spokesman Wade Newton said.