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Obama Administration Expected to Handle New Roof Strength Standard

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A much-awaited federal vehicle roof strength rule is being relegated to the back burner yet again by the Bush administration for the next administration to handle. The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that it would not meet the Dec. 15 deadline for final adoption of a new roof strength rule. The department has set a new target of April 30, 2009 – more than three months into the Obama administration. Our source for this blog is this news report in Automotive News.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not changed the standard in more than 30 years. It is outdated to say the least and has cost Americans tens of thousands of lives and millions, if not billions, in medical and related costs. The NHTSA estimates that out of about 40,000 fatal accidents each year in the United States, close to 10,000 deaths may be attributed to rollover accidents.

We will be closely watching the Obama administration to see how they handle this major auto safety issue, which will determine what auto manufacturers must do to prevent a vehicle’s roof from collapsing in a rollover crash. Safety advocates are optimistic that the Obama administration will toughen the roof strength standard and delete a proposed provision that would limit lawsuits against automakers if their vehicles comply with the new standard.

Even the proposed standard is very much inadequate and will prove to be ineffective, if enacted. The current standard proposes a static test to gauge the strength of a vehicle’s roof. That basically means the vehicle will be tested by being dropped on its roof when stationary. However, as we all know, in the real world, stationary vehicles are not involved in rollover crashes. These catastrophic accidents occur when a vehicle is moving, often, at freeway speeds.

This is a critical federal rule that must be revised and revised properly. I agree that the provision limiting lawsuits must be removed because it shuts out injured victims from the only recourse they have – through the court system. The current rule will not hold auto manufacturers accountable for the defective products they put in the market, including vehicles with roofs that cave in on impact and crush the occupants. I sincerely hope a new and improved vehicle roof strength standard sees the light of day under this new administration.

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