The U.S. Department of Transportation set new standards for car roof strength under the Obama administration, set to be enforced starting with 2017 models.
The more stringent standards are intended to reduce the injuries and fatalities from rollover accidents, which tend to have more dire consequences than other types of motor vehicle accidents.
“Rollovers are the deadliest crashes on our highways and today’s rule will help occupants survive these horrific events,” said then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood when the new standards were announced.
Of the 9.1 million motor vehicle accidents in 2010, only 2.1 percent involved a rollover; however, this small percentage of accidents accounted for nearly 35 percent of all car accident deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
With these troubling numbers in mind, LaHood announced new, stricter standards for roof strength. The new requirements are:
- Vehicles up to 6,000 pounds must have roof-crush resistance equal to 3 times the weight of the vehicle, effectively doubling the existing requirement.
- Vehicles over 6,000 pounds (up to 10,000 pounds) must be able to withstand force up to 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight. This is the first time this class of vehicle has been subject to roof strength regulations.
Phasing in the new strength standards began in September 2012, and all vehicles must comply with the new standards by the 2017 model year.
While these new standards are an important step in reducing the danger of rollover accidents, some critics say they do not go far enough to protect consumers. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Vice President Jacqueline Gillan told the Wall Street Journal that the new standards are “wholly inadequate to protect most of the people who are injured or killed by roof crush in rollover crashes.” Other consumer advocates have urged federal regulators to adopt new standards for buses and other commercial vehicles, in addition to the passenger vehicles addressed by the new requirements.
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In addition, while these new standards will help reduce the risk of the roof crushing inward, they will not affect the most important aspect of reducing rollover injuries and deaths: seatbelts. More than 7,600 people were killed in rollover crashes in 2010, with the majority of fatalities (65 percent) coming from those not wearing seat belts, according to NHTSA data.
“These new standards go a long way toward reducing deaths, but safety belts are the first, most important step everyone should take to protecting themselves and their families,” LaHood said in the announcement.
Seatbelt use has been proven to reduce the risk of serious injury or death in a car accident by 50 percent, and 88 percent of New Jersey residents report using their seat belts while in a vehicle. More than 4,000 New Jersey drivers and passengers were killed in car accidents between 2003 and 2012, and with the use of seatbelts and new safety standards, hopefully lives can be saved in the future.