Product Liability

Auto roof crush improvements delayed yet again

In November, we reported that federal U.S. standards for vehicle roof safety were dangerously low, and that the decision to raise the standards, even just to a level still inferior to that of many foreign auto manufacturers, has been continually delayed. Then, just yesterday we speculated as to whether a bailout of the auto industry would mean better, safer American cars.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the Department of Transportation is just as dysfunctional as the American auto industry in its ability to do the right thing … or anything at all.

According to a report in the Detroit News, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has announced yet another delay in improving automobile roof safety standards. The announcement comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has delayed raising the standards multiple times before.

The current standards have been in effect since the 1970s and are considered by many safety experts to be “a total, ineffective disaster” for the safety of millions of people who own and drive American cars.

Citing growing pressures that the American auto industry faces, the Bush Administration informed Congress on Monday that it would not complete its reform of the 35-year-old roof strength standards before leaving office in January.

Secretary Peters sent a letter to Congress stating that she will miss yet another deadline in issuing the new and improved regulations. Last October, Peters said that the regulations would be complete by December 15.

This time, Peters said the needs until April to finish the new regulations. Considering that she and President Bush will be long gone in April, it makes you wonder if the current administration was ever really serious about improving automobile safety standards.

Considering such a lack of vision, is it any surprise that American car companies are struggling to stay afloat? After all, why would Americans settle for inferior cars unless they just found a really good deal? Also, it may be safe to assume that if consumers were confronted with roof crush statistics before purchasing their automobiles, they’d turn to foreign brands even more frequently than they already do. As it is, roof crush performance just isn’t high on most people’s lists when choosing the right automobile.

Not wanting to add undue pressure to car manufacturing companies at this time is one reason that the NHTSA gives for the latest delay. It also says that it needs more time for its technical experts to “complete its regulatory analysis,” which it has cited in previous delays.

The delays form the perfect picture of “broken government.” The NHTSA studied safety regulations for more than a decade before proposing in 2005 to strengthen vehicle roofs and expand the number of vehicles that would be affected. Congress gave the NHTSA until July 1 of this year – more than 3 years – to issue the new standards.

More than 10,000 people are killed every year in rollover crashes. Rollovers represent 3 percent of all crashes yet account for a third of all vehicle fatalities.