Roll Me Over – One More Time

The Society of Automotive Engineers resumed its ongoing boxing match over injury causation in rollovers at last week’s SAE Government Industry meeting. In Malibu’s corner was Wayne State and University of Michigan’s Transportation Safety Institute, presenting research supporting the theory of occupant diving as the mechanism of head and neck injury in rollovers – regardless of roof crush.

(For those of you who haven’t followed this 25-year-old scrum, Malibu refers to two sets of experimental rollover tests General Motors conducted in 1983 and 1987 on Chevrolet Malibus. Known as Malibu I and II, the tests were conducted to validate the theory that occupants don’t suffer head and neck injuries because the roof collapses on them, but because the force of the crash propels them into the roof. Over the years, automakers have clung to the Malibu results, despite crash data showing that the number of deaths and injuries in rollover accidents has risen disproportionately, with more than quarter of the accidents involving a serious roof intrusion.)

On the other side was NHTSA, arguing that roof strength is related to injury. It’s refreshing – if ironic – to see NHTSA champion a relationship between intrusion and injury. The agency is a late convert to this view; after years as an adherent of the Holy Gospel of Malibu.

Meanwhile, over at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting – also last week – research from less likely suspects supported the need for stronger roofs.

Bigger Bags, Better Glass

Forty years after automakers fought off regulations that would have actually tested rollover occupant protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published a final ejection mitigation rule, which favors the installation of bigger and more longer-deploying  side airbags and takes a half-step forward on improving side glazing.

The rule establishes a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 226 Ejection Mitigation. FMVSS 226 applies to the side windows next to the first three rows of seats in motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less. The performance-based standard would institute a compliance test in which an impactor would be propelled from inside a test vehicle toward the windows. The ejection mitigation system would have to prevent the impactor – based on the mass imposed by a 50th percentile male’s upper torso on the window opening – from moving more than a specified distance beyond the plane of the window.  Each side window would be impacted at up to four locations around its perimeter at two time intervals following deployment, to ensure that the airbags remain deployed for the beginning and end stages of a rollover.

15 Passenger Vans: Still Dangerous After All These Years

Saturday’s 15-passenger van crash that killed six and injured eight members of a Bronx church is a somber reminder that the vehicle remains the only one in the U.S. fleet today that is deadly if used as a 15-passenger van. NHTSA long-ago whiffed on recalling the unstable vehicles, instead relying on manufacturers’ good intentions and consumer warnings, and the preventable carnage continues.

The 1997 Ford Econoline van, loaded with 14 members of the Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies and their luggage, was on its way to a church event in Schenectady, NY when the left rear tire failed on the New York Thruway. The van rolled over, scattering occupants and suitcases on the median.

Newly Released Documents and Data Highlight Explorer Rollover Problems

Six years ago, Ford Motor Company laid the blame for Explorer rollovers on defective Firestone tires, but newly available data shows that even with replacement tires, tire-related rollover crashes in Explorers are growing and internal documents unearthed during recent litigation show that the popular SUV's stability problems are also rooted in vehicle design.