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.

The New De Facto Roof Strength Standard? IIHS Raises the Bar

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V6, I1

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's effort to write a new roof strength standard drags into its fourth year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has gone ahead and created one that is far more stringent than anything the agency has proposed.

Beginning in 2010, automakers who want IIHS's coveted Top Safety Pick designation will have to build vehicle roofs with a 4.0 strength-to-weight ratio - far above the timid 2.5 ratio the government has been contemplating for its amended standard. The IIHS estimated that vehicles that could meet this new strength standard could reduce injury risk to occupants by 40-50 percent. In January, the insurance advocacy group informed manufacturers about its new requirement for vehicle roofs to win its highest honor. The industry greeted the news with the "can't-do" spirit that characterizes its reaction to nearly every safety improvement.

Senate Holds Hearing on Roof Strength; NHTSA Grilled on Pre-emption

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The chairman of the Senate Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Automotive sub-committee has urged the Secretary of Transportation to extend the July 1 deadline for a final roof crush rule and to drop the pre-emption clause from the regulation.

States Rights Advocates Attack NHTSA Roof Crush Preemption Proposal

A provision in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's proposed roof crush standard that would preempt state tort law would transfer the societal costs of caring for rollover crash victims to the states, discourage manufacturers from improving vehicles' crashworthiness and usurp Congressional authority, a diverse group of influential commenters has argued.

For the first time in 32 years, the NHTSA is proposing to strengthen vehicle roofs and extend the standard to cover vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,000 pounds, as part of an alleged "comprehensive plan for reducing the risk of death and serious injury from rollover crashes." The proposed regulation would increase the force that vehicles are required to withstand from 1.5 to 2.5 times their unloaded vehicle weight and replace the 22,240 Newton maximum force limit for passenger cars. It would also change the certifying test from the current plate movement limit of 5 inches with a new direct limit on headroom reduction. (See The Safety Record, V2, I4).