[Senate Hearing 108-901]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 108-901
SUV SAFETY: ISSUES RELATING TO THE SAFETY AND DESIGN OF SPORT UTILITY
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE,
SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED EIGHTH CONGRESS
FEBRUARY 26, 2003
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SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
ONE HUNDRED EIGHTH CONGRESS
JOHN McCAIN, Arizona, Chairman
TED STEVENS, Alaska ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, South Carolina
CONRAD BURNS, Montana DANIEL K. INOUYE, Hawaii
TRENT LOTT, Mississippi JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER IV, West
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, Texas Virginia
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE, Maine JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts
SAM BROWNBACK, Kansas JOHN B. BREAUX, Louisiana
GORDON SMITH, Oregon BYRON L. DORGAN, North Dakota
PETER G. FITZGERALD, Illinois RON WYDEN, Oregon
JOHN ENSIGN, Nevada BARBARA BOXER, California
GEORGE ALLEN, Virginia BILL NELSON, Florida
JOHN E. SUNUNU, New Hampshire MARIA CANTWELL, Washington
FRANK LAUTENBERG, New Jersey
Jeanne Bumpus, Republican Staff Director and General Counsel
Robert W. Chamberlin, Republican Chief Counsel
Kevin D. Kayes, Democratic Staff Director and Chief Counsel
Gregg Elias, Democratic General Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held on February 26, 2003................................ 1
Statement of Senator Allen....................................... 13
Statement of Senator Boxer....................................... 2
Statement of Senator Lautenberg.................................. 16
Prepared statement........................................... 18
Prepared statement of Sandy Turner, submitted by Senator
Statement of Senator McCain...................................... 1
Statement of Senator Snowe....................................... 20
Prepared statement........................................... 22
Claybrook, Joan B., President, Public Citizen.................... 26
Prepared statement........................................... 29
Article, dated February 18, 2003, from the Los Angeles Times. 85
Cischke, Susan M., Vice President of Environmental and Safety
Engineering, Ford Motor Company................................ 71
Prepared statement........................................... 73
Lange, Robert C., Executive Director, Vehicle Structure and
Safety Integration, General Motors Corporation................. 66
Prepared statement........................................... 68
O'Neill, Brian, President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 58
Prepared statement........................................... 61
Pittle, R. David, Senior Vice-President, Technical Policy,
Consumers Union................................................ 51
Prepared statement........................................... 53
Runge, Jeffrey W., M.D., Administrator, National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration.......................................... 3
Prepared statement........................................... 5
Tinto, Christopher, Director of Technical and Regulatory Affairs,
Toyota Motor North America..................................... 78
Prepared statement........................................... 79
Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM),
prepared statement............................................. 99
Cantwell, Hon. Maria, U.S. Senator from Washington, prepared
Hollings, Hon. Ernest F., U.S. Senator from South Carolina,
prepared statement............................................. 97
Kerry, Hon. John F., U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, prepared
SUV SAFETY: ISSUES RELATING TO THE SAFETY AND DESIGN OF SPORT UTILITY
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2003
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,
The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m. in room
SR-253, Russell Senate Office Building, Hon. John McCain,
Chairman of the Committee, presiding.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN McCAIN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM ARIZONA
The Chairman. Good morning. The purpose of today's hearing
is to gain a better understanding of the various safety issues
associated with sports utility vehicles, or SUVs, and other
light trucks. In the interest of full disclosure, my family and
I are owners and operators of SUVs, as many Americans with
large families are as well.
As we all know, SUVs are extremely popular among consumers,
yet they have received significant criticism for being more
dangerous than other vehicles on the road. Statistically, SUVs
have a higher rate of vehicle rollover than passenger vehicles.
Recent comments by Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the administrator for
the National Highway Traffic Administration, gained attention
when he expressed concerns about SUV safety and serious
reservations about his family members driving some of them. His
views in his capacity as NHTSA administrator, coupled with the
data provided by his agency, merit a comprehensive review by
Let me be clear. This hearing is not intended to vilify
auto manufacturers or the SUVs that they produce, nor is this
hearing meant to blindly defend the SUV as a vehicle that is
more or less as safe as passenger cars. Rather, the purpose of
this hearing is to examine the incidents of death, injury, and
rollover when SUVs are involved in vehicle crashes.
I am a strong believer in the free market and consider
consumer choice to be a fundamental component of a healthy
economy and society. Consumer choice should be based on sound
information, much of which, in this case, is provided by those
who will testify today.
The Committee will be very interested to learn about the
efforts underway to develop safer vehicles as well as to help
educate the public and share existing information needed to
make informed choices. We also will be interested to learn
whether any safety issues that may exist concerning SUVs can be
resolved voluntarily by automobile manufacturers or whether
uniform Federal safety standards are necessary.
Finally, it is important to recognize that over the years
the automotive industry has made strides in improving vehicle
safety. I hope to hear from our witnesses regarding what
technologies currently exist that could further mitigate the
safety risks that may be associated with SUVs.
I thank the witnesses for appearing and look forward to
their testimony today.
STATEMENT OF HON. BARBARA BOXER,
U.S. SENATOR FROM CALIFORNIA
Senator Boxer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this
I first would like to apologize in advance. I have two
hearings going on in other committees--I am going to stay as
long as I can--one in Foreign Relations and one in the
Environment. But I do want to thank Dr. Runge for his efforts
to make SUVs safer for the American public. And I want to thank
the Chairman for calling this hearing.
Everyone knows there are SUVs everywhere, and you cannot
drive down the street without having one in front of you,
behind you, to the side of you. And a recent New York Times
story about SUVs, it was dateline Greenbrae, California. That
is where I live. And it is--every other car is an SUV. And I
will tell you, large families and small families have chosen
SUVs. That is their choice. And the way I look at it is that we
do not have a choice, in terms of looking at the safety of
these vehicles. We need to do that. At least I feel we need to
do that, and I am glad we are going to do that today.
Beginning in 1999, the sale of SUVs and light trucks
exceeded the sale of regular passenger cars. That trend
continues today. There are now 76 million SUVs and light trucks
on the road, or about 35 percent of all registered vehicles in
the United States. It is clear that Americans love their SUVs.
I am hopeful that next year, we will start seeing hybrid SUVs
so the issue of fuel economy, hopefully we are going to make
real progress on that and people can have an SUV that will get
Because SUVs are larger and higher off the ground than
regular passenger cars, drivers certainly think that they are
safer. Now, I understand today we are going to hear from some
automobile people who say that now they are getting safer. I
think that is good, because actually, before, they never said
they were not as safe, but they now say they are safer. So I
guess that is progress. And what we are beginning to realize
is, the combination of greater weight and height make the SUV
top-heavy and more susceptible to rollovers.
I want to show you a chart on rollovers here, Mr. Chairman.
This is the passenger car record on fatalities from rollovers,
and we see a decrease here of 15 percent between 1991 and 2001.
On SUVs, we see 150 percent increase in the sport-utility-
vehicle rollover deaths. And the other problem we have is that
when an SUV does roll over, oftentimes the roof caves in on the
passengers, and obviously the results are devastating.
And so what I hope we can do is hear from the witnesses
today and see whether there is a need to set a standard for
safety with SUVs. And I would like to suggest that after
meeting with some--and I admit that I met with the people who
care about the safety of automobiles--they are suggesting, and
I tend to agree with them, that we should consider having a
standard for rollovers and a standard for compatibility,
because what happens is when an SUV hits another car, we are
hearing now that there are fatalities in that other car because
of the way the two vehicles match up when they hit one against
So there is one other chart, just quickly, and then I am
done, that I wanted to show you. And this is that SUVs are more
likely to roll over in a crash, 2.5 times. And I think these
issues need to be looked at.
And I would also like to place into the record a record
that we have that under administrations, Democratic and
Republican alike, these standards have just been not addressed
in either case, the roof crush, the rollover problem. So I
would like to place that in the record. * It just shows, Mr.
Chairman, years and years of administrations of both parties
just kind of ducking the standards question. And I hope we can
take another look at it.
* The information referred to was not available at the time this
hearing went to press.
And I thank you very much for your leadership on this.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Boxer.
Welcome, Dr. Runge. It is good to see you again. Please
STATEMENT OF JEFFREY W. RUNGE, M.D., ADMINISTRATOR, NATIONAL
HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION
Dr. Runge. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senator Boxer. Thank
you for giving me the opportunity to testify about the safety
of sport utility vehicles. This issue is a high priority for
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We
appreciate your attention to it.
In the year 2001, more than 42,000 Americans were killed on
our highways, and more than 3 million people were injured.
About 31,000 of those killed were riding in cars and trucks.
Although these numbers have many causes, I would like to talk
about two issues today that center on the vehicle rollover and
Here is what has led to these problems. The vehicle fleet,
as you have mentioned, is much different than it used to be.
Light trucks, including SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans, have
replaced large passenger cars and station wagons on our
Nation's highways. Higher, heavier vehicles have replaced many
that had lower centers of gravity, and their various shapes
First, a few facts about rollovers, some of which Senator
Boxer mentioned. SUVs are involved in fatal rollover crashes
nearly three times the rate of passenger cars. In 2001, of the
31,000 people who died in cars and trucks, over 10,000 were
killed in rollovers. So, overall, rollovers constitute about 3
percent of crashes, overall, but over 30 percent of fatalities
The other issue is vehicle compatibility. The widening
mismatch of vehicle size and weight on our Nation's highways is
reflected in fatality statistics. In fatal crashes involving
light trucks with passenger cars, over 80 percent of the
fatalities are in the passenger cars.
Although we are focusing on the vehicle today, our agency
looks at safety comprehensively. Driver characteristics and
driver behavior are very important factors in every crash, so
we must examine issues related to the driver as well as the
vehicle. For instance, we could save most of the lives we lose
in rollovers if people would simply buckle their safety belts
every time on every trip. You can reduce your risk of death by
80 percent in light truck rollovers, and yet three of four
people who died in rollover crashes were not wearing safety
The agency is attacking this rollover problem on many
fronts. For instance, our New Car Assessment Program, or NCAP,
provides information that helps consumers purchase the safest
cars. NCAP includes a rollover rating, which correlates very
closely with the real-world rollover crash history of the
vehicles rated. Under this system, a one-star vehicle is at
least 40 percent more likely to roll over in a single vehicle
crash than a five-star vehicle. This information is available
by brochure as well as on our Web site at nhtsa.gov.
We know that market forces work, Mr. Chairman, as you have
suggested. But in order for market forces to work, consumers
must be given information to make those informed choices. Our
NCAP program gives people the information they need, and,
thereby, gives manufacturers a market incentive to improve the
stability of their vehicles. NHTSA is also working on several
regulatory initiatives to help reduce rollover deaths and
Now I would like to speak briefly on compatibility for a
minute. With the increase in light trucks on our highways, the
danger of the size and weight disparity is increasing. Let me
give you some examples. People in passenger cars are at far
higher risk when struck by a light truck from the front or the
side. In frontal impact, there are eight fatalities in the
passenger car for every fatality in a full-size van or pickup,
and there are 4.5 fatalities in the car for every fatality in
In side impact, the problem is worse, as you can see from
this graphic on my right. These numbers have been updated from
the numbers in my written testimony and are based on data from
1995 to 2001. When a pickup truck strikes the side of a
passenger car, there are 39 fatalities among passenger-car
drivers for every driver fatality in the pickup truck. When an
SUV strikes the side of a passenger car, there are 22
fatalities in the passenger car for every driver fatality in
the SUV. So you can see why this is a top priority for our
We have a broad range of research activities currently
underway on vehicle compatibility in order to attack this
problem. We also appreciate very much the contribution of the
industry to find science-based solutions to this very, very
Mr. Chairman, the relationship of the corporate average
fuel economy standard to safety is also of concern to us. We
know that, to a significant degree, the CAFE program and our
rules defining light trucks may have contributed to this
rollover and compatibility problem. So later this spring, we
will publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to
solicit comments about the standards beyond model year 2007. We
will be asking how we might restructure the CAFE program under
our current statutory authority to solve these safety problems.
Our goal is to enhance safety and achieve significant
improvements in fuel economy while protecting American jobs.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my oral testimony. My written
testimony is submitted for the record, and I will be happy to
answer any questions.
[The prepared Statement of Dr. Runge follows:]
Prepared Statement of Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., Administrator, National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for asking me to
appear before you to testify about the safety of sport utility vehicles
(SUVs). I had the pleasure of testifying before the Committee last year
about our agency's priorities and I appreciate the opportunity to
describe how SUV safety fits into these priorities. I look forward to
working with you as we seek to make our roads safer for all highway
I want to begin by giving you some data to set the safety context.
In 2001, our data show that 42,116 people lost their lives in highway
crashes and more than three million people were injured. The number of
fatal injuries has been at about this level for the past several years.
In view of the steady increase in travel, this means that the fatality
rate is stable or declining slightly. The number of injuries was almost
five percent lower than in the prior year--a significant decline. There
is reason for hope in these numbers, and a sign that safety measures
are having an effect. Highway travel on a vehicle mile basis is far
safer than it was 20 years ago.
What's new about these statistics is that they reflect the
experience of a vehicle fleet that is very different from the fleet of
20 years ago. A more complex fleet, including vehicles such as minivans
and SUVs that scarcely existed before, has replaced the fleet that was
once dominated by passenger cars. There are now over 79 million light
trucks on the road--including pickups, minivans, and SUVs--representing
about 36 percent of registered passenger vehicles in the United States.
With light trucks now accounting for nearly 50 percent of new vehicle
sales, their share of the total fleet is growing steadily.
While the overall fleet is safer, the new fleet composition
presents new safety issues. Two issues stand out. Rollover is one
issue. Pickups and SUVs are involved in a higher percentage of
rollovers than passenger cars--the rate of fatal rollovers for pickups
is twice that for passenger cars and the rate for SUVs is almost three
times the passenger car rate. Overall, rollover affects about three
percent of passenger vehicles involved in crashes but accounts for 32
percent of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities. Single vehicle
rollover crashes accounted for 8,400 fatalities in 2001. Rollover
crashes involving more than one vehicle accounted for another 1,700
fatalities, bringing the total fatality count to more than 10,000.
Compatibility is the other issue. While light trucks represent 36
percent of all registered vehicles, they are already involved in about
half of all fatal two-vehicle crashes with passenger cars. In these
crashes, over 80 percent of the resulting fatalities are to occupants
of the passenger cars. This problem will continue to grow as the
percentage of light trucks in the fleet increases. SUVs account for
about 35 percent of light truck sales.
These two issues are at the top of our vehicle safety agenda. I
will address them in detail in a minute, but first I want to underline
the importance of personal responsibility in highway safety.
We take a comprehensive approach to safety, which means that we
look at the driver as well as the vehicle. We know that safety belt
usage directly affects injury severity and the chances of survival in
We can reduce the effects of the rollover problem overnight if all
occupants will simply buckle their safety belts. The belts are there in
every vehicle. They are 80 percent effective in preventing deaths in
rollovers involving light trucks, and 74 percent effective in rollovers
involving passenger cars. Yet 72 percent of the occupants of these
vehicles who die in rollover crashes are not wearing safety belts. Of
the fatally injured occupants, almost 60 percent are ejected from the
vehicle, a percentage reflecting the violent and lethal nature of the
We are intensifying our efforts to increase the level of safety
belt use, through national safety belt mobilizations and by supporting
the enactment of primary safety belt laws. Primary laws are more
readily enforceable than secondary laws and lead to higher usage rates.
Data show that the usage rate of safety belts in States with primary
belt laws is 11 percentage points higher than the rate in other States.
In 2002, the belt use rate reached 80 percent in primary belt law
States for the first time. We will not solve the problem of low belt
use unless the States adopt laws that can be readily enforced.
The other issue of driver responsibility is driving while impaired
by alcohol or drugs. Impaired driving remains a constant problem on the
highways. Alcohol is involved in 41 percent of the nation's highway
fatalities overall, and in a like percentage of fatal rollover crashes.
We believe the issues of the vehicle and the driver are
inextricably linked. Many of the deaths and injuries that could be
prevented through vehicle performance standards can also be prevented
through measures to improve driver performance.
Our approach to SUV safety reflects this comprehensive view. We
have made the issues I've mentioned--rollover, compatibility, seat belt
use, and impaired driving--the focus of special teams, known as
Integrated Project Teams, that bring together expertise from all parts
of the agency. I asked the teams to look at the best data available on
these issues and to identify action items that the agency should
pursue. We will be incorporating the results of the teams' work into a
coordinated strategy to address each problem, which we will publish in
the Federal Register in the near future. Although my remarks today will
focus mainly on the vehicle issues, I urge you to keep all four issues
in mind as you consider the question of SUV safety.
First, I want to address the issue of rollover. Under our consumer
information authority, we carry out a program known as the New Car
Assessment Program (NCAP). Through NCAP, we provide comprehensive
information to aid consumers in their vehicle purchase decisions. The
vehicle manufacturers have shown that they will voluntarily modify the
design of their vehicles to improve their NCAP ratings. We welcome
their efforts. Data shows that vehicles are becoming safer as a result.
We have used our consumer information authority to add a rollover
resistance rating to NCAP beginning in model year 2001 that is based on
estimates of the risk that a vehicle will roll over if it is involved
in a single-vehicle crash. The rating is based on a vehicle's ``static
stability factor'' or ``SSF,'' which is a measure of a vehicle's track
width (the distance between two wheels on the same axle) in proportion
to the height of its center of gravity. Our analysis of real-world
crashes shows that the ratings correlate very closely with the real-
world rollover experience of vehicles. The lowest-rated vehicles (1-
star) are at least 40 percent more likely to roll over than the
highest-rated vehicles (5-stars).
A committee of the National Academy of Sciences recently studied
our rating system for rollovers. While concluding that the static
stability factor is an excellent predictor of single-vehicle rollover
crashes, the committee stated that a dynamic rollover test might
improve the rating system. The Transportation Recall Enhancement,
Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act directed us to develop
such a test. We published a notice of proposed rulemaking under the
TREAD Act last fall to prescribe a dynamic rollover test, received
comments, and completed our own testing using the procedures in the
proposal. We will publish a final rule in the near future. The dynamic
rollover test will show how new vehicles actually perform in emergency
steering maneuvers. Together, the static stability factor and the
dynamic test will give manufacturers an incentive not only to improve
the static stability of their vehicles but also to improve suspension
systems and add stability control technology.
Informing consumers about voluntary improvements to rollover safety
will help ensure that manufacturers who make such improvements are
rewarded in the marketplace. The NCAP information will help consumers
identify the vehicles that are more resistant to rollovers.
Market forces exert a powerful influence on vehicle choice, but
consumers must be informed of the relative risks among vehicles in
order to make appropriate market choices. Manufacturers will respond by
providing vehicles that people want to buy. In areas in which consumer
information enables consumers to discriminate among vehicles based on
their safety, we will see the fleet change much faster than through the
traditional regulatory approach. We have been trying our best all
through this administration to find ways to ensure that consumers are
informed about the differences among vehicles and the importance of
becoming educated before making a vehicle purchase.
While market forces are relatively fast and efficient, the agency
recognizes that certain changes can best be effected through the
rulemaking process. NHTSA is accordingly working on four rulemaking
initiatives to help reduce deaths and injuries when a rollover crash
occurs. One is a proposed upgrade of door lock requirements. The
proposed upgrade will be published this year. Second, we are completing
our evaluation of the current roof crush standard and expect to propose
an upgrade of that standard early in 2004. Third, the agency intends to
pursue rulemaking to consider possible ways to prevent ejection out of
windows during a rollover. Finally, we have asked vehicle manufacturers
about their plans to voluntarily install more effective seat belt
reminders. In addition, we are awaiting the report this summer by the
National Academy of Sciences evaluating technologies to increase seat
In the meantime, since it takes time to establish credible,
scientific performance standards, we are encouraging the manufacturers
to take voluntary steps to make vehicles more resistant to rollovers
and to incorporate technologies that will make vehicles more protective
when rollovers occur. Last month I suggested to the industry that they
work toward a consensus on rollover sensing technologies for these
systems, and encouraged them to examine the use of technology to
increase safety belt use, also an essential part of anti-ejection
Our rollover team is working on innovative ways of preventing
rollovers and mitigating injuries associated with these crashes. The
team is examining safety belts, roof-rail air bags, roof crush, tire
safety, and other vehicle issues, as well as possible NCAP information
on roof crush, tire safety, and vehicle handling. Next month we will be
publishing information in the Federal Register that will reflect the
work of this team.
New technology or regulations can both have unintended
consequences. We will therefore proceed expeditiously but deliberately.
The physician's overriding ethic is ``first, do no harm.'' We want to
avoid harmful effects such as might result if an increase in roof
strength resulted in raising the center of gravity, which could
increase the propensity of a vehicle to roll over. We will continue to
approach this holistically rather than through simple discreet,
Now I'd like to turn to compatibility. In simple terms,
compatibility is the degree to which vehicles are matched in vehicle-
to-vehicle crashes. In the fleet of 20 years ago, the primary
incompatibility was one of weight, involving large cars and small cars.
However, the arrival of SUVs and increased numbers of pickups has made
other incompatibilities important as well--incompatibility in vehicle
height and in the alignment of interacting vehicle structures, such as
bumpers and chassis frame rails. There are also differences in the
stiffness and design of their structures and in style of construction--
vehicles with frames versus those with unibody construction.
These incompatibilities appear to be increasing. For example, in
model year 1990 the average weight difference between light trucks and
passenger cars was about 830 pounds. By model year 2001, the weight
difference had increased to 1,130 pounds (based on EPA's Fuel Economy
Trends Report). Similar changes are occurring in front-end heights and
in stiffness. The average initial stiffness of pickups and SUVs is
about twice that of passenger cars.
Passenger cars experience the greatest risk in frontal and side
impact. For every driver fatality in a full-size van striking a car
from the front, there are six driver fatalities in the passenger car.
For every driver fatality in a full-size pickup, there are 6.2 driver
fatalities in the car.
The problem is much worse for side crashes. The higher frame rails
of a pickup truck or SUV may override the rails of a passenger car,
resulting in greater intrusion. Likewise, the higher engine compartment
poses a risk for passenger car occupants. When a pickup truck strikes
the side of a passenger car, there are 26 fatalities among passenger
car drivers for every driver fatality in the pickup. When a SUV strikes
a passenger car, there are 16 driver fatalities in the passenger car
for every driver fatality in the SUV.
Overall, these differences make SUVs and all light trucks more
aggressive than passenger cars in their interaction with other
vehicles. Based on our analysis, weight incompatibility and impact
location each have a large effect on vehicle aggressivity. However,
size and structure are also important. When controlling for impact
location, and comparing light trucks to passenger cars of comparable
weight, we found that light trucks were more than twice as likely as a
car to cause a fatality when striking a car.
Some automobile manufacturers have voluntarily introduced changes
to their SUVs that will lead to improved compatibility in crashes with
automobiles. The primary focus of these changes has been to improve the
geometric mismatch between the frontal structures of the SUVs with
those of the automobiles so as to improve the structural interaction
during a crash.
NHTSA has a broad range of research activities currently underway
on vehicle compatibility. Our immediate goal is to generate knowledge
that government and industry alike can use. We are continuing to
investigate real-world crashes, conducting crash testing, using
computer modeling, and participating in international forums on vehicle
compatibility. This information ultimately enables manufacturers to
meet consumer's needs while producing vehicles that are less aggressive
in a crash. This research also will provide the basis for future
We have also stepped up research related to side crash protection
and research to evaluate the potential of advanced inflatable safety
systems for preventing ejections in rollovers and protecting occupants
in side impact crashes.
In August 2002, we published for public comment a 4-year vehicle
safety rulemaking priority plan. Rollover and compatibility were
identified in the draft plan along with many other safety issues. In
addition to considering public comment submitted in response to the
plan, we are currently examining the research support that will be
needed to implement those rules.
We also have an agency-wide Integrated Project Team (IPT)
addressing this issue. The Compatibility Team currently is evaluating
both aggressiveness and incompatibility in multi-vehicle crashes, both
through real-world statistics and crash test data, to try to identify
causation factors and solutions that can be incorporated into the
vehicle fleet over time. This problem is being approached in two ways:
by looking at measures to improve the safety features of the struck
vehicle and measures to reduce the aggressiveness of the striking
vehicle. The strategies they recommend will be published in the Federal
Register this spring.
Just as important to our work regarding the rollover propensity and
compatibility of future vehicles is our ongoing work to address
concerns about the relationship of corporate average fuel economy
(CAFE) standards to safety. As you know, the President's National
Energy Plan emphasized our strong determination to take safety into
account when setting fuel economy standards.
We take seriously the findings and recommendations of the
congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS) concerning the effect CAFE has had on vehicle safety. The NAS
report concluded that the current CAFE system has had an unintended
negative effect on passenger safety. It has in the past encouraged the
divergence between small and large vehicles in the vehicle fleet, which
has led to increased passenger fatalities and injuries. The NAS found
that CAFE standards contributed to both the sale and production of
lighter and smaller cars to meet the standard and the displacement of
large passenger cars by minivans and SUVs in the nation's vehicle
fleet, with negative consequences for vehicle safety. We are completing
a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of the changes in vehicle
weight and safety that have occurred in the years since the CAFE
standards went into effect.
The President urged Congress to lift a six-year freeze on setting
new CAFE standards, and we were pleased when it did so in December
2001. Since then, our agency has been hard at work setting sound,
science-based light truck fuel economy standards for model years 2005
through 2007, which we will issue by April 1. Our proposed increases
are the highest in 20 years and can be implemented without compromising
safety or employment.
This spring, NHTSA will also publish an Advance Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking to ask for comments about fuel economy standards beyond
model year 2007. Many new fuel-saving technologies are on the point of
being introduced. We want to find ways to improve fuel economy
significantly while protecting passenger safety and jobs.
We know that, to a significant degree, the CAFE program and our
past rules defining light trucks have contributed to the problems we
now seek to solve. We will be asking how we might restructure the CAFE
program under the current statutory authority to solve these safety
problems. We are asking Congress to make safety and employment explicit
statutory criteria for future CAFE rulemakings. And we will ask
Congress for statutory authority to reform the CAFE system, perhaps
along the lines recommended by the NAS, if we conclude that is the most
appropriate way to improve fuel economy while protecting passenger
safety and jobs. We expect that our evaluation of vehicle weight and
safety will be considered in this rulemaking proceeding.
We are committed to reducing the problems of rollover and
incompatibility. But NHTSA cannot do this successfully by itself. The
manufacturers are fully aware of our concerns, and many have committed
to address these problems. We are gratified by the recent response to
our call for action from the automotive industry. The Alliance of Auto
Manufacturers convened a meeting this month of the world's experts in
compatibility, which was led by the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety. I received a letter on February 13 from the Alliance and the
Insurance Institute stating their commitment to working on the issue.
This is imperative.
We will be looking closely at the data from industry's forthcoming
research as well as our own to make vehicles more compatible and to
help individuals in the struck vehicles survive and avoid serious
injury. The Alliance informed us last week that they intend to use the
same approach to an industry-wide initiative to address rollover. This
is good news for their customers and for all Americans who depend on
them for safe, reliable, and comfortable transportation.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my overview of the safety of SUVs. The
issues involved are challenging, but I believe that we are meeting the
challenge and that our actions will improve safety on the nation's
highways. I will be glad to answer any questions you may have.
The Chairman. Thank you.
In other words, from a side crash the fatality risk is
roughly five times in the case of a full-size pickup, three
times in the case of an SUV, as it is of a passenger car. Is
Dr. Runge. You are reading that accurately, sir.
The Chairman. And it is obvious because of the size of the
vehicle, right? I mean, it----
Dr. Runge. Yes, you will----
The Chairman. How much more complicated is it than that?
Dr. Runge.--you will hear some other technical testimony
that I think you will look forward to that talks about that
what has really caused this problem is not just size and
weight, but also stiffness of the vehicle and geometry. So
although mass is very, very difficult to change, larger
vehicles are going to have more mass. What can be changed are
the other two characteristics.
The Chairman. You mention that--and maybe others will
allege--that one of the reasons why there are high fatalities
in SUVs is because of lack of use of seatbelts, right?
Dr. Runge. That is correct.
The Chairman. Well, is there any evidence, empirical
evidence, that shows that people that ride in passenger cars
have any more or less proclivity for using a seatbelt than
someone who rides in an SUV?
Dr. Runge. As a matter of fact, in 2002 SUV drivers caught
passenger drivers for the first time, and they now wear their
belts at exactly the same rate.
The Chairman. You made a speech at the Automotive News
World Congress, and you mentioned that--you said that SUVs are
so dangerous you would not allow members of your family to
drive some of them. Were your comments taken out of context?
Dr. Runge. Indeed, even what you just said that I said is
not exactly accurate, Senator. That was a response to a
reporter's question following a central theme of trying to make
the point that consumers need to make informed choices for
their family. Some families have a need for utility and space.
Others, like mine, have an inexperienced driver in the family.
And also the rollover risk, therefore, plays into the equation.
So consumers need to make choices that are appropriate to their
certain situations. I hope that satisfied you.
Let me just elaborate one more thing.
The Chairman. Yeah.
Dr. Runge. The answer was never about SUVs, generally. In
fact, we believe that it is inappropriate to generalize for any
vehicle class. The whole central theme of what I am trying to
get across is, is that consumers need to be able to
differentiate within vehicle classes. And certainly there are
many SUVs that are safer than many passenger cars. So it is
important that consumers get that information and weigh it.
The Chairman. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and
the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently wrote to
you announcing formation of a working group to take steps
toward creating voluntary vehicle safety standards. One, what
is the credibility of the automobile manufacturers when there
is a clear record that they opposed seatbelts and airbags? And
two, how can you be sure that there will be full participation
on the part of all interested parties as if it would be if you
were under a formal rulemaking process?
Dr. Runge. Well, without wanting to dwell on history,
because I was not around for all of that----
The Chairman. No, but you judge people by their history.
You have to judge their performance by their history. The
automotive industry testified before this Committee on numerous
occasions that we could not afford seatbelts and we could not
afford airbags and we could not afford the ten-mile-an-hour
bumper problem and it--you know, I mean, it is a clear
history--nor can they increase CAFE standards. They were able
to block Senator Kerry's and my effort for a modest increase in
CAFE standards. So where is their credibility in establishing
this voluntary vehicle safety standard?
Dr. Runge. Well, let me just respond by saying, Mr.
Chairman, that our goal is to get the necessary countermeasures
into the fleet as soon as possible.
The Chairman. As long as they are credible.
Dr. Runge. That is correct. And we will be watching very
closely. But, in fact, we, at NHTSA, do not design cars and
trucks. We are dependent upon those who do to actually----
The Chairman. But you do set----
Dr. Runge.--help determine what is feasible.
The Chairman.--standards. You do set standards.
Dr. Runge. Yes, sir, we do. And unfortunately, it takes a
long time for us to do the research to develop an irrefutable
compliance test that is repeatable 100 percent of the time.
In addition, we also set our standards--they are minimum
safety standards. But we are hoping that the industry can move
faster in parallel with us. We are also moving in parallel. We
are doing our own research. We hope that it will converge at
the end, but there is no guarantee, you are right about that.
The Chairman. In your opinion, which is the greater safety
concern within the light truck category, vehicle rollover or
Dr. Runge. Well, I think the statistics that we have seen
speak for themselves, and I think that one is more amenable to
a rapid change than the other, and that is rollover. A rollover
is one third of our occupant fatalities on the highways, even
though it is a very small percentage of crashes. We know what
the fixes for that are. The industry, in fact, is already
responding with different designs of vehicles, with the
introduction of electronic stability control, anti-roll
technology, and others. They are already finding their way into
the fleet because consumers want that.
The Chairman. Do you believe that CAFE standards can be
increased without compromising vehicle safety?
Dr. Runge. Senator, we have asked for authority to respond
to the National Academy of Sciences report, which did validate
our own data, with concerns about the relationship of CAFE to
safety. We have to approach this very, very, very, very
carefully. I think we all have the same overriding goals of
less dependence on foreign oil, safety, and American jobs. We
do not want to walk into a trap of unintended consequences. So
we appreciate the work of the National Academy of Sciences. We
are analyzing that.
We do believe that there are ways to improve fuel economy
and fuel efficiency without sacrificing safety and American
The Chairman. You do believe there is.
Dr. Runge. I do believe there is. Now, I am not sure if we
can do it under the current system of regulations that we have
from the statute, but we are going to be looking very closely
whether we can make improvements under our current statutory
authority with our regulations to solve some of the problems
that we are in now.
The Chairman. Senator Boxer?
Senator Boxer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Doctor, you were an emergency room physician. Is that
Dr. Runge. Yes, ma'am, for 20 years.
Senator Boxer. I am assuming you have seen some of the
injuries from car accidents.
I just want to thank you for something. I am sure you took
heat--I do not know if you did--for your statement, modest
though it was. I mean, basically, you just told the truth.
And let me just show it again. I mean, this is what is
happening here, in terms of rollovers. And we know, as you
point out, that although most crashes are not rollovers, a lot
of the fatalities come from rollovers. So your saying that you
are afraid for your family, I mean, I thank you for that. I
really do. And I think that the truth-tellers save lives, and I
just want to encourage you to continue being honest with the
American people, because they deserve it.
And as I said, most of my neighbors drive SUVs, and they
will continue to do so. They love them. And we want to make
I want to ask you something, because I was trying to
understand some of the things that could be done. And there are
groups out there that are helping me kind of get a grip on
this, and I want to see if you think that what they are saying
makes some sense. They are suggesting that NHTSA should issue
requirements for basic rollover crash-worthiness protections.
And right now, as I understand it, there are just warnings. We
just tell people what the risks are, but we are not moving to
change anything yet.
And you are looking at this issue. Do you think it would
make sense to require safety belts that tighten in rollover
crashes? Because there is some indication that because of the
size of the car, that these belts could come open. Do you a
safety belt which tightens in a rollover crash, is that a
recommendation that makes some sense?
Dr. Runge. We are looking at all sorts of countermeasures
similar to seatbelt pretensioners, which is what I think you
are talking about, and it is all tied in with this ability of a
vehicle to sense a rollover or an impending crash and actually
reel the person into proper position before the crash.
Absolutely, we think that has great promise.
Once again, you are already seeing this in high-end
vehicles that the manufacturers are making. And you know, as
those technologies work their way into the marketplace and
become cheaper, you will see them----
Senator Boxer. Uh-huh.
Dr. Runge.--more ubiquitously within the marketplace.
Senator Boxer. Uh-huh.
Dr. Runge. Let me just back up a second, Senator, and--we
do look at rollover, in terms of both crash avoidance and
crashworthiness, when they do occur. The charts about the
rollover propensity and so forth are really about crash
avoidance. And there are technologies that will help people
avoid a crash, to stay on the pavement so that they do not trip
and go off.
Senator Boxer. Uh-huh.
Dr. Runge. But crashworthiness is what you are talking
about is also very important, and we are developing rulemaking
and research on issues like improving door locks, roof
strength, seatbelt--not just pretensioners, but design----
Senator Boxer. You are looking at window glazing and----
Dr. Runge. And window glazing.
Senator Boxer.--as part of it? I am sorry to interrupt you.
I am just--I have so little time and so many questions.
What about the fact that the roof could be equipped with
interior padding? Because that appears to be another factor
contributing to fatalities. Are you going to take a look at
Dr. Runge. Yes, Senator, we are actively engaged in the
preliminary research now to upgrade our roof crush standard.
Senator Boxer. Okay. I want to--when we talk about
compatibility, Senator McCain made the point, ``Well, clearly,
these cars are so much bigger than the passenger vehicles,''
but is it not also true there are other factors, in terms of
compatibility? For example, the bumper, where the bumper is
located on the SUV compared to where it is on a--just so that,
in essence, the bumper does no good. You just--it does not
cushion the blow. Is that something that we should look at for
a future design?
Dr. Runge. Generally speaking, we refer to that as
``geometry.'' And it also has to do with where the--what we
call the ``load path'' is. When a vehicle strikes another
vehicle or strikes a tree or a barrier, we can actually measure
where, how high or low or how wide or how centered that load
path is in a vehicle. There are tradeoffs with stiffening a
vehicle or moving the stiffness around that the vehicle
designers are much more aware of than we are, and we want to be
careful that we avoid unintended consequences.
Senator Boxer. Uh-huh.
Dr. Runge. But, yes, the geometry absolutely must be
addressed in order to deal with compatibility.
Senator Boxer. And talk to me about the frame of an SUV. Is
it not less able to absorb a shock than a passenger car?
Dr. Runge. I am much more comfortable with engineering of
the human body than I am with a vehicle, but let me just say
that there are different types of construction. And once again,
generalizing within an entire class of----
Senator Boxer. I understand.
Dr. Runge.--vehicles is difficult. There are frame
constructions and there are uni-body constructions all within
the SUV class, and the--actually, the safety engineers who are
going to testify later would be more able to answer that
Senator Boxer. Senator Snowe has legislation calling on
NHTSA to improve the safety of 15-passenger vans. Have you
taken a look at her legislation? And do you have a position on
Dr. Runge. As you know, Senator, or I hope you know, NHTSA
has issued consumer advisories on 15-passenger vans annually
over the last couple of years. We had a press conference last
April and May with the beginning of the heavy travel season,
once again, to inform consumer about the instability of vans
that are fully loaded, particularly these vans tend to sit
around on their tires for days on end. Drivers may be just one
of the members of the athletic team, for instance, instead of
somebody who is actually trained in the handling
characteristics of 15-passenger vans. We have a lot of high-
center-of-gravity trucks on the highway, and the drivers who
handle them are trained to do so. We also believe, with 15-
passenger vans, that people haul large numbers of people
around--i.e., greater than ten--should clearly be trained in
the unique handling characteristics of those vehicles.
Senator Boxer. So do you support her legislation? And that
is my final----
Dr. Runge. I will take a look at it.
Senator Boxer. Thanks.
Dr. Runge. I am sorry, Senator Snowe, I cannot recall off
the top of my head.
Senator Boxer. Thank you.
The Chairman. Senator Allen?
STATEMENT OF HON. GEORGE ALLEN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM VIRGINIA
Senator Allen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am sorry I was
late. I wish more people were driving SUVs here. They would
have moved along a little faster.
Senator Allen. I was glad to be in one.
Senator Boxer. I came in my hybrid and got here early, so--
Senator Allen. Well, I drove a Toyota fuel-cell vehicle.
Senator Boxer. There you go, and you got here.
Senator Allen. Well, it was an SUV. There are not many of
them yet, and I look forward to the day when there are SUVs
made with hydrogen fuel cells or more, of course, of the
hybrids, as well.
Regardless, I am also very glad that my wife was able to
take my three children to school today in the snow in our SUV
and that we have the freedom of choice to make decisions for
our own family without governmental elitism, regulations, or
nannyism, a different point of view maybe than expressed here
today by others.
Regardless, let me ask you this, Dr. Runge, is it not true
that the overall fatality rates on SUVs have dropped--SUVs,
pickups, and minivans--and it is the biggest improvement in the
fatality rates? You take from 1981 to 2001, the statistics I
have seen, that the deaths were, in 1981--and you have the
Isuzu Troopers and the Broncos, which is common knowledge they
were top-heavy, they rolled over more than vehicles now--but
the point is, there were 237 deaths per million registered SUVs
in 1981, and now it is down to 73 deaths per million registered
SUVs. Is that true?
Dr. Runge. Well, there--all vehicles--passenger cars, SUVs,
minivans, pickup trucks--are all safer----
Senator Allen. Rollover rates are less.
Dr. Runge.--all safer than they were 20 years ago. They are
safer than they were ten years ago. With respect to--the
problem, as I said earlier, Senator, is the fact that there are
so many more light trucks on the highways right now. It is
manifesting itself in these fatality statistics. Yes, they are
much safer. It sort of depends on where your baseline started,
but, yes, all vehicles are safer than they were 20 years ago.
Senator Allen. Well, let me ask you this then. In 2001, 73
deaths per million registered SUVs compared with 83 deaths per
million registered passenger cars, both an improvement over the
past 20 years, a much more significant improvement with the
SUVs. But would you agree with that, that there are 73 deaths
per million registered SUVs--this is 2001--and 83 deaths per
million registered passenger cars?
Dr. Runge. I will take a look at that data. I think you
should also consider that in 1981, the seatbelt-use rate was
less than 10 percent in the United States and now it is 75
percent, with the greatest increase being in light-truck
occupants. So we have to slice that data up a little bit in
order to determine whether it is strictly the vehicle
characteristics or whether the driver and the vehicle together
have made the statistics better.
Senator Allen. All right, if you want to get to the real--
the prime cause of motor vehicle accidents, what would you say
the prime cause of motor accidents--the main contributing
Dr. Runge. There are many causes of traffic crashes.
Senator Allen. What is number one?
Dr. Runge. Uh----
Senator Allen. For fatalities.
Dr. Runge. Well, if we--we have to--we had done a causation
study in the 1970s that showed that about----
Senator Allen. All right, let me ask you a leading
question. Are drivers impaired by alcohol not the number-one
cause of fatalities? Since we have limited time, I have----
Dr. Runge. I understand, Senator. I cannot----
Senator Allen.--we do not have the regular rules----
Dr. Runge.--I cannot make it that simple for you. People
who are intoxicated--let me just say, alcohol is involved in 41
percent of traffic crashes. We also know that 72 percent of
light-truck rollovers are unbelted and that nearly 60 percent
of fatalities on our highways are occurring from people who are
unbelted. But these also involve road departures. They also
involve rollovers. They are multifactorial. So there is not one
number-one cause that you can point to of a motor vehicle
Senator Allen. Well, if someone is sober driving down the
road unbelted, is that person a danger to someone that is
greater than someone who is driving down the road belted and
also having taken a few belts themselves, and impaired?
Dr. Runge. In that situation, I would say that the person
who is impaired by alcohol is certainly at greater risk than
the person who is unimpaired and unbelted.
Senator Allen. Would you not think it is a better--that
most--that the highest priority use of law enforcement's time
when trying to maintain safety on the roads is to be detecting
those who are impaired drivers rather than worrying about the
lapse of people who are driving down the road otherwise safely?
Dr. Runge. It is important that both impaired driving be
lowered and that seatbelt use be raised. Those are the two
issues, and they are our top two human-factor priorities at
NHTSA. If we would do that, if we would get to 90 percent belt
use, like most of the other civilized countries, we would save
4,000 or 4,500 lives per year. I cannot think of anything else
that we could do as a Nation to save 4,000 people a year than
by simply following the law that exists in 49 States, that is
to buckle the safety belt.
Senator Allen. Fine. And all vehicles are equipped with
seatbelts, are they not?
Dr. Runge. They are.
Senator Allen. In the--well, less than a minute left--in
the questioning from the Chairman, as far as your prior
statement about your daughter or your whole family, you would
not let your kids drive these vehicles, certain SUVs, I will
give you a chance to just clear that up. Just so you
understand, I think free people can make decisions for
themselves. I am not one who is in favor of over-regulation and
nannyism from the government. People should be informed, make
those decisions for themselves. And the quotes that I--as I
said, let us get this straight, because sometimes people can be
misquoted--did you actually say that you would not let your
kid--``I would not buy my kid a two-star rollover vehicle if it
was the last one on earth''?
Dr. Runge. Yes, I did say that. The last vehicle----
Senator Allen. Would you like to elaborate and----
Dr. Runge. Well, yes, I actually--keep in mind that I said
two-star rollover vehicle. I did not say anything about SUVs.
Moreover, I was talking about my new, inexperienced driver. And
yes, the last phrase was a little hyperbolic.
This was all at the theme of exactly what you are getting
at, and that is, is that every family should make informed
consumer choices for themselves based on their needs and their
limitations. So they need to weigh rollover risk against size
and utility and inexperienced drivers versus people who are
used to driving trucks and not cars.
Senator Allen. Do you think you can work voluntarily with
the auto manufacturers to improve safety?
Dr. Runge. Absolutely.
Senator Allen. Or would you prefer dictating to them? And
that is a good leading question.
Dr. Runge. No bias at all in that question.
Senator Allen. Not at all.
Dr. Runge. We do work very well with the industry. Our
researchers work hand in hand. We depend on their research.
They look very closely at our research. We look at the
Insurance Institute's research. We look at--you know, this is--
the safety community in this country is not big enough that we
need to operate in isolated spheres.
A good example of that was two weeks, when the Alliance
convened a meeting that was chaired by the Insurance Institute
to begin really to get into the issue of vehicle compatibility.
These people build cars and they build trucks, and they
understand the tradeoffs that are involved. They can move a lot
quicker than we can. They are more flexible. They are faster.
And I was gratified by--the people in that room were the
world's experts in vehicle compatibility, except for our guys,
who were not there.
Now, we will be moving in parallel, but they will be moving
apace, I hope, and we will be watching very closely what they
do. This is a perfect example of how we can work symbiotically.
Senator Allen. Got you. My time is up.
I would have further questions, but thank you, Mr.
Dr. Runge. I would be happy to come see you, Senator.
Senator Allen. Well, I do think that consumers--when you
see--if I may, Mr. Chairman--what Volvo has come up with, Volvo
has always been known for their safety, whether it is in SUVs,
sedans, station wagons, and I do think some people value safety
at higher levels, and I do think that the marketplace will--for
a great deal, will determine what auto manufacturers do,
because people are going, I think, care about safety in
different degrees. And I am hopeful that with this hearing and
with your efforts, you can work voluntarily with the
manufacturers, which I think will be consistent with market
forces and consumer demand.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that added minute.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Allen.
STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK LAUTENBERG,
U.S. SENATOR FROM NEW JERSEY
Senator Lautenberg. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding
this hearing. It certainly is timely. The growing volume of
SUVs, light-duty trucks, and vans that are on the highways
causes us to look at safety and the viability of what it is
that government might want to do here to protect the public.
I, for one, am somewhat skeptical about getting the kind of
cooperation we want from the industry itself, but I do know
that they are trying hard to make these vehicles safer, and I
salute those attempts.
Having served on this Committee, Mr. Chairman, when I first
came to the Senate 20 years ago, and getting involved in the
debate about whether or not things like windshields could be
made sturdier, bumpers more crash-resistent, and die-stamped
parts could be identified that are frequently sold in the black
market or in the after-market after the vehicle has been
stolen. But I think it is fair to say that the industry has
come a long, long way in those 20 years.
You know, Dr. Runge, I noted with interest your public
commentary and just heard a little review of it. The fact of
the matter is that I am one of those who believe that the
majority need has to be satisfied. And when we talk about
government intrusion, one could say, well, red lights, stop
lights, are a government intrusion. It makes you slow down or
stop at various intersections. Well, heaven forbid that we
decide that it should be left up to the drivers and let them
duel it out at the intersection.
Senator Lautenberg. So I, for one, encourage you to be
aggressive about this. We are talking about the unexpected
consequences of, as you say, new drivers. And the hard work
that we did over the years on impaired drivers has paid off
substantially. I was the one that wrote the legislation to
raise the drinking age to 21. It was during President Reagan's
tour of duty, and it was Elizabeth Dole's position, as
Transportation Secretary. And we had a fight on our hands, but
it worked, and it has resulted in substantial reductions in
fatalities on the highway.
Dr. Runge, in your prepared testimony, you focus on the
importance of personal responsibility in highway safety and
talk about seatbelt usage and impaired driving, and I want to
do everything I can to help you on these matters. But I want to
ask you about something else. And it is a personal observation
about aggressive driving. There is something about that bigger
vehicle, all the power, the resemblance at times to a tank, a
military vehicle. There are often incidents of road rage, and
it looks like, to me, it heightens when the other driver is in
a large SUV. And I wonder if there is any evidence that you
have seen that would suggest that the size of the SUV and their
seemingly invincibility may promote such behavior.
Dr. Runge. Senator Lautenberg, I would like to answer that
question in a second, after I have the chance for the first
time to thank you for your leadership in the 1980s on impaired
driving, particularly with underage drinking, and raising that
drinking age. You have saved more teenagers than anybody I can
think of in this country----
Senator Lautenberg. That is kind of you.
Dr. Runge.--outside of medicine. So I just wanted to--I
want to commend you that and thank you----
Senator Lautenberg. That is very nice of you. Thank you.
Dr. Runge.--for your leadership on that.
With respect to aggressive driving, we are trying to get
our arms around this issue. I made a comment to the press which
seemed to resonate when I first came here that I called it
arrogant driving, because I really do believe it has more to do
with how we treat each other than anything else. There is also
increased congestion. There is a relative anonymity behind the
wheel. People do not know you. You know, if you go to a small
town, you just do not see a lot of aggressive driving, because
people know you and they think you are a jerk if you, you know,
do not treat them correctly. But around here, we do not know
our neighbors, and I just--I am convinced that the whole issue
of how we treat each other has to do with anonymity, with
congestion, with the increased pace of our lives, and that
people tend to take it out on the road. They think they can
lengthen their work day or their play day, for that matter, by
shortening their road time. It just does not work that way. And
I think there is an element of frustration. I am not aware of
any evidence that SUV drivers are more aggressive than
passenger-car drivers, but we do have a team taking a look at
this whole issue.
Senator Lautenberg. Uh-huh. You bring up the question of
anonymity, and the more I think the person is screened from
public observation, the--I sense the tendency to be more casual
about other people's rights, and I do not know whether it has
ever been done, but I would love to see a study of what happens
with tinted windows in cars to see whether--I think it raises a
question of safety for law enforcement people. You do not know
what is in the car when a police officer approaches the driver.
And if it were possible to get any kind of statistic on what
happens behind those darkened glass windows, I think it would
be very interesting.
Mr. Chairman, I will put my statement in the record.
[The prepared statement of Senator Lautenberg follows:]
Prepared Statement of Frank Lautenberg, U.S. Senator from New Jersey
I want to commend Chairman McCain for holding this hearing. More
than half of all new vehicles sold are now Sport Utility Vehicles
(SUVs), light-duty trucks, and vans. Because of a growing consumer
preference for such vehicles, they now constitute more than one-third
of all the vehicles on the road.
These vehicles pose special safety challenges--they are more
inclined to roll over than ordinary passenger cars.
And SUV occupants are nearly three times as likely to be killed in
And, because SUVs are bigger, heavier, and have a higher center of
gravity, they pose greater risks to the drivers and passengers in
ordinary cars in a collision.
I also believe that SUV drivers tend to be more aggressive. Now, I
don't have the data to prove that, but that has been my observation.
Over the past 10-15 years, there has been a clear increase in
consumer preference for SUVs. That's obvious, and the market has
But as SUVs have gotten bigger and bigger--and less and less fuel
efficient--and as accumulating crash data have drawn attention to these
special safety issues--all of that has spawned an anti-SUV backlash.
I think the industry is aware of this and I want to applaud the
auto makers for their intention to bring more hybrid and so-called
cross-over SUVs to the market.
And I want to applaud the auto makers for their commitment to
making safety improvements voluntarily. It is worth noting that many
such improvements can be made faster than the National Highway Safety
Traffic Administration (NHTSA) can require them.
The issue is whether the measures the industry has committed to are
going to be sufficient. The witnesses today should shed some light on
that and I look forward to hearing their testimony.
Pardon the pun, but we've been down this road before.
Each time the industry has faced prospective regulations in the
past, whether we are talking about seat belts or emissions or fuel
efficiency standards or airbags, the response has been to (1) deny the
problem; (2) use political clout to stonewall; (3) argue that the
proposed regulations are too difficult or too costly to implement; or
(4) claim that sufficient changes will be made voluntarily.
The first three responses are unacceptable. The fourth is feasible,
but put me down as a skeptic at this point.
While industry officials and safety advocates may disagree about
the need for new regulations, I hope we can all agree on one thing: The
best way to save lives and reduce serious injuries right now is to
require and enforce seat belt laws.
Seventy-two percent of the vehicle occupants who die in rollover
crashes were not wearing their seatbelts. What a tragic waste of human
Another thing we should be able to agree on is: the need to be even
more rigorous in cracking down on drunk driving.
According to the presentation that Dr. Runge made in Detroit last
month--the one that generated some media interest--we could cut auto
fatalities by two-thirds if we increased seat belt usage to 90 percent
and continue to get tougher on drunk driving.
I have worked hard over my career to improve auto safety. In 1984,
President Reagan signed my bill into law to raise the national drinking
age to 21. That law saves 1,000 young lives each year. In 2000,
President Clinton signed my bill into law that required a .08 blood
alcohol level as the national ``drunk driving'' standard. That law is
saving lives, too.
When I returned to the Senate after my two-year ``sabbatical,'' I
wanted to get a seat on this Committee, in part because of its
jurisdiction over auto safety.
Right now, the special challenges and risks that SUVs present to
their own drivers and occupants--and to the drivers and passengers in
ordinary cars--are our Number One safety concern.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Lautenberg. And I would like to enter a statement
that I got from a woman from Arkansas about her experience with
accident in an SUV and the tragedy that followed, just as an
indication of what happened in this one instance. It is a
pretty powerful statement, and I ask unanimous consent that
both my statement and the statement submitted to me be included
in the record.
The Chairman. Without objection. Thank you.
[The information referred to follows:]
Prepared Statement of Sandy Turner, Little Rock, Arkansas
In 1994, my daughter and I were returning from a trip to Memphis,
where we spent Easter with my family. It was about 4 p.m. and we were
traveling on 1-40. According to other people--because I can't remember
this--a pickup truck with big wheels and no license plate was cutting
in and out of traffic. He cut in front of me and knocked me off the
road. My Jeep Cherokee rolled three times and the roof caved in. Each
time it rolled, the roof hit me. The Jeep had no roll bars or
cushioning on the roof. The truck driver kept going. They never caught
him. I ended up in the median.
My 10-year-old daughter was in the back seat in her seat belt. She
was okay, but I drifted in and out of consciousness for two weeks. I
was wearing my seatbelt too, and we were going the speed limit.
The crash broke my spinal column and damaged my neck. It also broke
my left arm, which is basically unusable. They put rods in my back, and
I was in the hospital for three weeks after that. Then I went to a
spinal center in Atlanta, where I stayed for three months. I am in a
wheelchair now. I can't move my legs. My right arm has gone out over
the past six years, but they don't know why. The only place I have
feeling is on my head and the left side of my neck and arm.
I bought the Jeep new in 1992 because I needed something for
carpooling. I had no idea how deadly they were. I became really aware
after the accident.
I sued Chrysler, alleging that Jeeps had a dangerous tendency to
roll over and that they provided inadequate roof strength and
protections for people inside. We settled shortly after.
Now I'm telling my friends about SUVs and Jeep Cherokees,
especially my friends with children. These vehicles are dangerous.
Sometimes in a parking lot I have the urge to warn people getting in
some of these vehicles and say, ``Look what happened to me.''
Before the crash, I coordinated and produced a consumer segment
called ``Seven on Your Side'' for our ABC affiliate in Little Rock. I
also coordinated volunteers who answered the consumer hotline.
I'm unable to work now. All I'm able to do is use my left arm, and
I don't even have full use of it. That's real hard on an active, fairly
intelligent 54-year-old woman. My brain still wants to go out and do
all kinds of things, but my body wears out. Ijust can't do it.
If some of these safety features that are being discussed now had
been in place nine years ago, I would still be a working citizen and
would have been able to raise my child, instead of having attendants do
Some people think that when someone has a spinal cord injury,
that's all of it. But as my body matures and my injury matures, more
and more things keep going wrong. My arm went out. I'm now having
muscle spasms in my neck. That's one of the few places I can feel
anything. New things crop up. I've had four operations since the
I urge the senators at this hearing to make these vehicles safer. I
invite whoever decides not to install roll bars and padding to come and
spend a day with me, just come and see what it's like.
What happened to me could happen to anyone. I hope the people here
today will make sure it doesn't.
The Chairman. Senator Snowe?
STATEMENT OF HON. OLYMPIA J. SNOWE,
U.S. SENATOR FROM MAINE
Senator Snowe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Runge, I want to follow up on Senator Boxer's question
about the legislation that I am submitting. And I had also
submitted it to you for your review several weeks ago, and I
would appreciate your follow-up on the 15-passenger vans,
because we had the worst traffic accident in the history of
Maine last September when 14 migrant workers were killed.
Obviously, there are some serious problems with the rollover
rate of 15-passenger vans, as I understand three times the rate
of other vans.
And I would like to ask you why your agency has not
included the 15-passenger van in your dynamic rollover testing
program. That is something that has been recommended by the
National Transportation Safety Board.
Dr. Runge. Senator Snowe, thank you for that question. This
is an issue at the agency. We are continuing to look at that
particular issue. We also are very intent on looking at the
volumes of vehicles that are on the road to make sure that we
have covered the vast majority of the vehicles that are
actually sold and run. So it is not just a vehicle-specific
issue; it is also an issue of how many lives can we affect, how
many vehicles can we rate. And we want to make sure that we
have covered 80 percent of the miles traveled by the vehicles
that we choose to run through the test.
I do not know of any reason, and I will have to consult
with my engineers, why can we not include 15-passenger vans in
some sort of a stability rating.
Senator Snowe. Well, I think, with the risk of rollovers
six times greater than if the van only has five occupants, then
I think it really is essential to include it in your program.
Another disparity in current law, as I understand it, and
that is what I am also addressing in my legislation, is that
school children are banned from using these 15-vehicle vans if
they are purchased. They cannot be purchased, but they can ride
in them if they are rented, used, or leased. Do you think that
is something that ought to be changed in law?
Dr. Runge. Well, it is my understanding, Senator, that that
is State law. States can do that now if they choose to do so.
Our ability to control that really has only to do with new
vehicles and new vehicle sales. But what is good for a new
vehicle certainly should be good for a used vehicle.
Senator Snowe. Uh-huh. You referred in your testimony about
the study that I requested concerning CAFE standards. You know,
Senator Feinstein and I have introduced legislation to raise
the CAFE standards for SUVs in the light-truck category
comparable to passenger vehicles. And I requested that study
because there had been some questions raised that as you try to
improve fuel economy, you also incur the risk of compromising
safety standards. And you said that this study is about to be
completed. Do you have a timetable for that?
Dr. Runge. Well, I hoped it would be out by now, Senator.
We sent it out for peer review to some distinguished
researchers in the field earlier in the wintertime. We have
gotten those comments back. Dr. Kahane is incorporating those
comments into the manuscript, and I think it will be ready
very, very soon.
Senator Snowe. Okay, that is very----
Dr. Runge. So this, indeed, is a wonderful study taking
into account driver behavior, driver characteristics, and
looking at the actual effects not only occupants, but also on
others on the road.
Senator Snowe. How would you address overloading SUVs,
which is something that the Consumer Union's research on this
subject has certainly raised serious questions just about, how
much cargo you can put in these SUVs given the fact it
increases the rollover potential? What steps have you taken or
will take with respect to this issue?
Dr. Runge. We have not done very much on that issue at all
yet, as far as consumer information goes. We have--let me just
back up a second.
We appointed four integrated project teams to deal with
four of our priorities at NHTSA. One of them is a Rollover
Integrated Project Team, which has engineers, consumer
information people, behavioral scientists, and the like from
all across the agency. We will publish that report shortly.
There are some issues in that report having to do with consumer
education on issues such as these.
We know that for some light trucks, station wagons, and
SUVs, that one really should not load the top, increase the
height of the center of gravity, put extra load on the rear
wheels with trailers, lots of heavy cargo or luggage. Every
vehicle has a rating that is readily visible for the consumers.
It is in the owner's manual, it is usually somewhere in the
vehicle, even the glove box, that tells the vehicle owner how
much weight they can safely put into their vehicle. I have no
idea how often people actually read that or know what it means,
but we should take a look at that issue.
Senator Snowe. Well, I know the Consumer Union has
recommended having it prominently displayed in the vehicle's
window or someplace that is readily identifiable, you know, to
indicate the load capacity of the vehicle. And I think
certainly that is something that is doable and should be done.
I am just wondering if some of these steps could not be
done sooner rather than later on some of these issues. When you
see the lopsided rates involved with these accidents and
fatalities that occur to people who are struck by these
vehicles who are in passenger cars, it really does raise some
very serious questions. I mean, it is alarming if you look at
the statistics. In half of all the fatal two-vehicle crashes
involving SUVs and passenger cars, over 80 percent of
fatalities have occurred to occupants of the passenger cars.
So, to me, it seems pretty clear that we should be moving
sooner rather than later on some of these issues.
And then, secondly, I agree with you on the seatbelts. I
mean, you know, obviously, it would probably obviously save
many lives by the use of seatbelts. But, again, we still have
to address the fundamental, which is the rollover propensity of
SUVs. So while it is important to be wearing the seatbelt, I
think it is also important to address the structural problem
that exists with these vehicles, as well.
Dr. Runge. Thank you, Senator.
Senator Snowe. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Senator Snowe follows:]
Prepared Statement of Olympia J. Snowe, U.S. Senator from Maine
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good afternoon, Dr. Runge. I
congratulate the President for his judgement in appointing you to head
up the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and I'm
certain you will be an effective and engaged leader in this extremely
Mr. Chairman, light trucks, which include sport utility vehicles,
the safety of which we are considering today, are very popular and
practical vehicles in my State of Maine, given the State's long snowy
winters, its largely rural communities, numerous small businesses, and
diverse year-round outdoor recreational activities. In fact, over 60
percent of the new vehicles sold last year in Maine fall into this
Nationally, we know about 50 percent of all vehicle sales are in
the ``light truck'' category--SUVs, minivans, and small to medium
pickup trucks--which represents about 36 percent of all vehicles on our
roads and highways. That's about 79 million vehicles. So I am
particularly interested in this hearing as I want everyone to be able
to purchase vehicles that fit their lifestyles but that are also safe,
while providing better gas milage.
The facts according to reports from NHTSA and the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety are that light trucks crashes with cars
account for the majority of fatalities in vehicle-to-vehicle
collisions, and are uniquely dangerous to other cars on the road. Two
thousand people would still be alive if their vehicles had been hit by
a heavy car instead of an SUV and, according to the Independent
Insurance Agents of America, 80 percent of car and SUV owners believe
that automakers should make safety changes to SUVs that would make the
roads safer for passenger cars. As today's SUVs grow even larger, this
war of escalation is much like an arms race as people wanting to feel
safe on the roads buy bigger and bigger gas guzzling SUVs, and those
who choose lighter passenger cars are put in greater danger.
Dr. Runge, I staunchly support your efforts to prioritize vehicle
safety by looking at vehicle compatibility and rollover prevention and
protection, particularly as these factors account for a large and
growing share of the safety problem. In that light, I am pleased to
hear that you have appointed Integrated Project Teams to address your
top priorities and hope you will be publishing recommendations in the
Federal Register for public comment in the near future.
In its 2001 Report on CAFE Standards, the National Academy of
Sciences stated that consideration should be given to designing and
evaluating fuel economy targets that are dependent on vehicles
attributes, such as weight, that inherently influence fuel use--and
that any such system should be designed to have minimal adverse safety
consequences. NAS went on to say that safety could be improved by
reducing SUV bulk and could reduce the death rates of other motorists
from large SUVs, and new engine technologies can produce fuel-
efficiency savings without compromising safety, which could actually be
improved if automakers reduce the bulk of large SUVs and pickups deadly
to other motorists in a collision.
The Report also recommended that NHTSA undertake additional
research on this subject, including a replication using current field
data of its 1997 analysis of the relationship between vehicle size and
fatality risk. As you may recall, I called for this study to go forward
at a 2002 Committee hearing with you, and I hope that this is
proceeding as we also need careful and up-to-date analysis to
investigate the links between improved fuel economy and injuries
resulting from accidents.
Studying rollover crashes is also important as they account for 32
percent of occupant fatalities. And SUV rollovers are far more likely
to occur than for passenger cars. In 2001, fatalities for single
vehicle rollovers increased by 2.3 percent. Over 60 percent of the
occupant fatality rate were those in SUVs while passenger car
fatalities were 22 percent. This trend also applies to serious injuries
as data shows that 46 percent of serious injuries occur in SUV
rollovers while passenger car injuries are much lower--at 16 percent.
These statistics are simply unacceptable, and I was pleased to read
in a New York Times article of February 14, that the auto industry
acknowledged that SUVs and pickups pose serious dangers to cars, and
has agreed for the first time to cooperate in taking steps towards
voluntary standards to make cars safer when hit by the larger light
trucks and to make SUVs less dangerous.
Dr. Runge, I do caution you not to rely on voluntary programs alone
to meet these safety challenges and responsibilities but believe that
government initiated programs--working in partnership with industry--
should be considered. There is a great sense of urgency and a growing
concern over the social costs of SUVs, which are more harmful to the
environment because of their greater emissions that affect the public's
SUVs also make it more difficult to reach the nation's energy goals
as they do not have to meet the higher CAFE standard of passenger cars.
While still bitterly opposed by the industry, the congressionally
mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards, have led to much
greater fuel economy in the past 25 years and less reliance on foreign
We must consider ways to raise the bar--and soon--both to protect
the public and, at the same time, obtain greater fuel economy. I look
forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, and the Committee, and with
Dr. Runge, consumers and the industry to reach these goals. I thank the
The Chairman. Dr. Runge, just briefly, on this Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers and Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, how can you ensure that all interested parties have an
Dr. Runge. Well, the way that we have discussed this
working is, is that the industry will begin its work. This was
their kickoff meeting, and they have divided themselves into
two groups, one to look at the characteristics of the striking
vehicles and another to look at self-protection or the
characteristics of the struck vehicle. We also have an
extensive research program going on with compatibility issues.
So we will be watching, Senator, and I am sure you will be, as
The Chairman. I do not think that is good enough. Did you
see the front of USA Today ?
Dr. Runge. I saw the front page. I have not read the story
The Chairman. Well, let me tell you what it says. It says,
``New evidence from the government suggests that key auto-crash
tests run by the insurance industry and Federal regulators
might make sports utility vehicles deadlier to people in small
cars.'' It says, ``Research finds little proof the tests
actually lead to vehicles that better protect their own
occupants. The findings call into question the crash-test
ratings that millions of consumers rely on when buying cars and
trucks. It could lead to an overhaul of Federal tests to make
them better predictors, what really happens when vehicles
collide. They are making--new government testing shows that as
automakers design SUVs and pickups to score well in insurance
industry and government frontal crash tests, they are making
front ends so stiff that they might be more dangerous to those
riding in small cars.''
It is sort of a follow-up to what Senator Snowe was talking
about. If you make the SUV stiffer in the front and stronger,
then perhaps you inflict, at least according to this article
and other information, greater damage on people who are
occupants of passenger cars.
Do you have any response to that? And what research have
you been doing that might add to our information on that issue?
Dr. Runge. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I understand what the
author is talking about. We, in fact, did do--we looked at two
vehicles that made substantial improvements in their Insurance
Institute safety rating recently and looked at their
performance and how they interacted with another vehicle in a
two-car collision. And it showed that one of the vehicles
actually inflicted more damage on the struck vehicle than the
older one that did not fare as well in the Insurance Institute
test. And the other one was roughly similar. These were two
crash tests, and clearly we want to crash more vehicles that
have done this.
Mr. O'Neill, I am sure, later on, will a comment about
that, but I would encourage the Committee not to regard
stiffness as a general yes/no, a binary answer, any more than
they would that, you know, an SUV is safe/not-safe. It is
really not a binary question. It is a very complex issue. Where
the vehicle is stiff and where it interacts with the other
vehicle is just as important as how stiff it is.
You know, with respect to our own and our own consumer-
information tests that we have done, we also have been
concerned in the past that our own tests may be making vehicles
stiffer and more dangerous to their crash partners. So a study
was done by a NHTSA researcher a couple of years ago who
studied the forces delivered by vehicles over the course of
NCAP, and actually showed that in 15 years of data, from 1983
to 1998, vehicles actually became less stiff and had less
deflection on chests and less head injury criteria with our
full frontal 35-mile-an-hour power test. And we also looked at
real-world performance, and it turns out that when vehicles
come together and one is rated ``good'' by our NCAP test and
one is rated ``poor,'' that the occupants of the ``good''
vehicle fare much, much better, with about a 25 percent lower
fatality rate than those in the ``poor'' vehicle. So we are
looking at this very carefully.
The Chairman. Well, I hope so, because it seems to me that
it is a rather serious issue.
Senator Allen, did you have an additional question?
Senator Allen. If I may.
The Chairman. Sure.
Senator Allen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Could you share with us statistics as to injuries or
fatalities of those who are driving in SUVs versus passenger
Dr. Runge. We will have more complete data on that when our
size and weight study comes out. I do not want to preempt Dr.
Kahane, but I will get back to this same theme, and that is, is
that I would not generalize SUVs and other vehicles. Some SUVs
are much safer than some passenger cars. Some SUVs are less
safe than some passenger cars. So we really need to
differentiate, which is my central theme all along, Senator. We
want consumers to go to our rating system and differentiate
within the SUV class about vehicles that may be more safe than
Senator Allen. Having grown up generally driving pickup
trucks, so I am more--was more familiar driving them, the SUVs,
many of them, are on a pickup truck body. There are others--my
brother has got one of those BMW whatever they are, and I was
driving it. It is like a sports car. They are expensive. I
would never have one. He makes more money than I do, and,
regardless it is like a sports car. And every--it is just
amazing the pickup on it, but it is a different--it is a
completely different frame than what you have on--generally on
the Fords, Dodges, and Chevrolets, which are on a pickup-truck
So in summary of what you are saying here in answer to a
lot of questions, is that your goal is to work with the
manufacturers to make them safer. And there is a whole sheet
here of voluntarily installed safety devices over the years,
from tire suspension organization, the traction controls,
stability controls, airbags. While they might have been a
threat as the mandate one time, now they are demanded by
people. People want them. You do not need to tell them. People
Your goal, as I understand it, as a philosophy, is not to
ban a particular SUV, for example, but rather make sure that
individuals making a decision would know of its propensity, its
safety, and so forth, and they make that decision. They may
want more cargo capacity. They may be towing. I have no
personal need for towing, but others may. And then they make
those decisions as to some sort of preclusion or dictate or
restriction on the sale of the vehicle. Is that correct?
Dr. Runge. That would be a nice summary of my philosophy,
with two caveats. First of all, we are a regulatory agency,
and, therefore, we have an enforcement division that looks for
unsafe vehicles that do not meet our Federal motor vehicle
safety standards. And we will not hesitate to take those off
the road through the recall process if we find a vehicle that
is out of line with its peers.
The other caveat is that when technology enters the fleet
and we have been able to assess that and analyze it, and, in
fact, it looks like it is good, or if we, in fact, in our
research, see something that is good, sometimes a regulation
can level the playing field so that manufacturers who are
willing to invest more in safety are not put at a competitive
disadvantage to those who do not want to invest in safety. That
is another good reason for a regulation, is when we can
actually show good cost benefit to a requirement for a safety
Senator Allen. Are there any SUVs on the road right now
that you think should not be on the--I am talking about being
manufactured now--that would meet that criteria?
Dr. Runge. There--no. I think that, once again, the
vehicles that are out there all have legitimate reasons for
being there. And as you very, very well pointed out, Senator,
it depends--consumers need to be informed about vehicles that
meet their needs--safety as a consideration, utility as a
consideration, their own family's driver characteristics as a
consideration. But if we thought there was an unsafe vehicle
out there, we would take it off the road.
Senator Allen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Doctor.
Senator Lautenberg. Thanks, Mr. Chairman, just briefly.
Dr. Runge, my compliments go to you for what looks like an
intense and active interest in dealing with this problem,
finding out more about it, and that is what we ought to do. And
I wonder, while this is not specifically SUV-related, whether
you have had a chance to look at the .08 blood alcohol content
law, which I got passed into law before I left the Senate, two
years ago. And we have seen some compliance since then by
States. We still have a dozen States, roughly, that have not
lowered their blood alcohol content. Regrettably, one of them
is my own State, New Jersey, and that is going to be done, I
believe, in the next short while.
Have you had a chance to look at the results of that? Is
there any indication that we have made safety gain as a result
of lowering that blood alcohol content level?
Dr. Runge. Yes, sir, we have done analysis of States.
Unfortunately, it is hard to do a controlled study. We have to
do a longitudinal before-and-after comparison. But we are
seeing reductions of about 7 to 9 percent in alcohol-related
fatalities in States after they pass the .08 law. So we believe
that it is effective.
We also believe that the American public should not fear
.08. It is not a glass of wine or two at dinner that gets you
to .08. Most people would be shocked at how--most people would
agree completely if they were ever at .08 that they should not
be operating a motor vehicle.
So there is this tendency to fear lowering of blood alcohol
content as putting one in some risk if he is a drinker of any
alcohol. The far greater risk is being hit by a drunk driver in
States that are not taking active roles to put these kind of
measures in place.
Senator Lautenberg. I thank you very much. The sanctions
will be going into effect starting this year, and I would hope
that we will be able to get some reporting. And I do not know
whether it falls to your department or somewhere else is the
Department of Transportation that reports to us, but the States
have to be reminded that there is a significant penalty if they
do not change.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Dr. Runge.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator.
Thank you, Dr. Runge. We look forward to working with you.
Our next panel is Ms. Joan Claybrook, president of Public
Citizen, Mr. David Pittle, the senior vice president of
Technical Policy of Consumers Union, Mr. Brian O'Neill, the
president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Mr.
Robert Lange, who is the executive director of Vehicle
Structure and Safety Integration at General Motors Corporation,
Ms. Susan Cischke, who is the vice president of the
Environmental and Safety Engineering at Ford Motor Company, and
Mr. Christopher Tinto, who is the director of Technical and
Regulatory Affairs at Toyota Motor North America.
Welcome to the witnesses, and, Ms. Claybrook, we will begin
STATEMENT OF JOAN B. CLAYBROOK, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Welcome back before the Committee, Ms.
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I very much
appreciate the opportunity to testify today before the
Committee and to the other Committee members.
Mr. Chairman, SUVs are antisocial, dangerous vehicles, and
Congress should act to bring down the death toll from these
top-heavy highway battering rams. Overall, SUVs are more
hazardous than passenger cars. In the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration's statistics, fatality data for all types
of crashes from 1999, the occupant fatality rate of 100,000
registered vehicles was 17.78 for SUVs, and 16.44 for passenger
cars. Acknowledging, of course, that they are fairly close
between the two, I think that Dr. Runge has made the best
point, which is there are safe SUVs and there are safe cars,
and there are unsafe others of both.
Any real study should also examine the increasing number of
fatalities imposed on passenger car occupants because of two-
vehicle crashes from deadly SUVs and pickup trucks. And I think
in answer to your question on the USA Today study, that
article, that it is really unethical to talk about the deaths
only to the occupants of these vehicles, but you also have to
look at the deaths that they cause to the occupants of other
vehicles. And some very excellent researchers, Ross and Wenzel,
have put together a lovely study that shows not only the death
rate in the vehicle as the occupant, but also the combined
death rate from both the occupant and the impact that that
vehicle has on other people.
SUVs are basically gussied-up pickup trucks, and most have
never been substantially redesigned to be safely used as
passenger vehicles. And we have already heard some of the
problems that arise when the high bumper, stiff frame, and
construction of these vehicles fails to adequately absorb the
energy and also imposes great harm on others on the highway.
There are also problems of side guardrails which are designed
basically for cars. And there are also pollution issues.
And I would take issue a little bit with Dr. Runge, that
you can make safer and more fuel-efficient SUVs, because much
of the improvement in fuel efficiency that occurred from 1977
to 1985, and, indeed, could be applied in SUVs comes from
technology. And also, when the Department of Transportation
issued those standards in the 1970s, what the manufacturers did
was they took the weight out of the heaviest vehicles, not out
of the smaller vehicles. So you had a more compatible vehicle
fleet because you got rid of the 5500-pound behemoths, and they
were closer to 4,000 pounds, and so they did less harm to
others on the highway.
The SUV, as it is currently designed--not as it could be
designed, but as it is currently designed--is a bad bargain for
our society and a nightmare for many American motorists because
of their aggressive design and because of their capacity to
roll over so readily and also their lack of crashworthiness.
That is a huge problem that could be fixed much more easily, as
Dr. Runge has acknowledged this morning. That is, fixing up the
roofs, tightening up the belts when the roll occurs, having
better seat structures, side window glazing that does not crack
but shatters like the windshield does, and side airbag
curtains. When you have that, these rollovers are not highspeed
crashes. It is not like you are going at 55 or 65 miles an hour
in a rollover because you change direction. You are going a
certain highway speed, but then you change direction. And these
are not heavy-duty crashes. You can protect most occupants in
And you can also substantially redesign these vehicles to
have a lower center of gravity. And indeed, some of such
vehicles have already been redesigned. The new Volvo SUV is a
great example of the state-of-the-art. And there is no reason
why every SUV on the highway could not have the same kind of
crash protection and lack of rollover propensity that they do.
There are 32 vehicles in the NHTSA rating system that have
two stars or one star that are SUVs, and this is really
unacceptable, and it was those vehicles that I think that Dr.
Runge was referring to when he said he would not let his
children drive them. I do not think anybody should drive these
vehicles. I do not think they should be manufactured that way.
They can be certainly changed completely.
One of the problems is that the current roof standard, roof
crush standard that NHTSA has is very weak, and it was weakened
because the auto industry, General Motors, particularly, in
early 1970, came in and persuaded the agency to cut back the
tests for that standard. But it should have a dynamic test, and
this is something the agency has the capacity to do. Right now,
when a rollover occurs, the windshield breaks in the first
roll, and when it does, the roof loses 30 percent of its
protective capacity. So the--and if you look at who has
paraplegia, quadriplegia, and brain damage from rollovers, it
is the people who are sitting where the roof crushed in. So
roof crush is a huge issue.
Another issue that I think is very significant, and the
auto industry talks about the importance of having belt usage,
belt usage is very high in SUVs. It is in the 77/78-percent
range. But in fatal rollover crashes, it is much lower. And I
have a substantial question about the performance of belts in a
rollover crash and whether they are doing their job, which is
the reason that I urge that there be pretensioning of these
belts so that the belt actually holds you in place and you do
not flip around during the course of these crashes.
Some of the interesting examples are of--the difference
between SUVs and cars is that a Honda Accord, which weighs
about 3,000 pounds, has a better rating, in terms of safety and
real-world experience, than the Ford Expedition, which weighs
5686 pounds. So you can have some important design--that shows
the importance of design. Design is critical to whether or not
these vehicles behave and perform as they should for the
I would also like to comment just for a minute on consumer
information. Right now, the agency's consumer information is on
the Web page. It is not on the sticker on the windshield so
that when you go to buy a car you really know how these
vehicles perform. In addition, the agency used to have some
rules for turning radius and for stopping distance. SUVs have a
longer stopping distance than others. And so it is a huge
problem between the ability of the consumer to make a decision
and the--you know, what is available to them, in terms of
information. It simply is not there.
Lastly, I would just like to comment on the voluntary
standard, Senator. In the committee report of this Committee in
1966, it says very clearly that voluntary standards have
failed. The reason the law was enacted in 1966 was because the
industry never did voluntarily put in safety unless they were
under duress at a particular moment in time. And the problem
with voluntary standards is that consumers cannot participate
in the development of these standards. The industry promises to
do something and then changes its mind, as it did with--General
Motors did with side curtains, for example, or Ford did with 25
percent improvement in fuel economy, which they promised in the
year 2000, then they changed their mind and backtracked. This
happens all the time. And so voluntary standards mean nothing
And in addition, when you go to buy a car, there is no
certification of what voluntary standards they actually comply
with. So you do not have it in the marketplace, you do not
participate, there is no enforcement, and there is no
involvement in the process.
Lastly, I would just like to mention that there--in
addition to the remedies that I have already mentioned, there
are a number of loopholes for SUVs in the law, in a variety of
laws--in the tax laws, there have been in the tariff laws, in
the safety laws. SUVs, for example, have a lower fuel economy
capacity, they have--they do not have to meet side-impact
protection at all if they are over 6,000 pounds, they do not
have to meet a roof-strength--the substantial roof-strength
standard at all if they are over 6,000 pounds, they do not have
to have the child anchorage systems if they are over 8500
pounds. And there are a number of areas where SUVs have been
exempted, and that is part of what has made them such a cash
cow for this industry.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Claybrook follows:]
Prepared Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen
Profit-Driven Myths and Severe Public Damage: The Terrible Truth About
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation, for the opportunity to testify
before you today on the safety of sport utility vehicles, or SUVs. My
name is Joan Claybrook and I am the President of Public Citizen, a
national non-profit public interest organization with over 125,000
members nationwide. We represent consumer interests through lobbying,
litigation, regulatory oversight, research and public education. Public
Citizen has a long and successful history of working to improve
consumer health and safety.
In recent months, there has been welcome and renewed public
attention to the social, environmental and safety problems afflicting
SUVs. While every consumer knows about the way these gas-guzzlers block
visibility on the road, blind drivers with higher headlamps, and cause
congestion in cities, few may be aware that SUVs are in fact no safer
than large or mid-size cars and impose additional safety liabilities in
many types of crashes. Since Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator of the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), openly assessed
SUV hazards for their drivers and other motorists during a recent
speech in Detroit, a long-needed public debate has begun. We must ask
whether SUVs deliver what they promise in terms of consumer need and
safety, and take a hard look at the profoundly anti-social and violent
aspects of these pollution-belching highway battering rams.
As I will discuss, the criticism of SUVs is richly deserved. SUVs
are basically gussied-up pickup trucks, and most have never been
comprehensively re-designed to be safely used as passenger vehicles. In
a crash, the high bumper, stiff frame and steel-panel construction of
SUVs override crash protections of other vehicles. Due to their cut-
rate safety design, SUVs often fail to adequately absorb crash energy
or to crumple as they should, so they ram into other motorists and
shock their own occupants' bodies. Endangering their occupants, SUVs
may also slide over roadside guardrails, which were designed for cars.
And their high profile and narrow track width create a tippy vehicle,
which, when combined with their weak roofs and poor crash protection,
places SUV drivers at risk of death or paralysis in a devastating
rollover crash. All of these factors mean that overall, SUVs are less
safe on average for their occupants than large or midsize cars, and yet
inflict far greater costs in both lives and money on other motorists.
The SUV is a bad bargain for society and a nightmare for American
roads. The switch from mid-size and large passenger cars to SUVs has
endangered millions of Americans, without any recognizable benefits.
One former NHTSA Administrator estimated in 1997 that the aggressive
design of light trucks (a category including SUVs, pickup trucks, vans
and minivans) has killed 2,000 additional people needlessly each year.
\1\ Yet automakers continue to exploit special interest exemptions and
safety loopholes, while creating consumer demand and shaping consumer
choice with a multibillion-dollar marketing campaign, because SUVs
bring in maximum dollars for minimal effort.
After years of losing out in the passenger car market to foreign
manufacturers, the domestics' decision to produce and market vehicles
in the far less regulated, tariffprotected \2\ SUV category was like
hitting the lottery for Detroit. In the SUV, the industry found and
developed a broad market that allowed it to rake in cash, while taking
every step to avoid spending money to fix the unstable and threatening
vehicle that resulted.
Manufacturers have known for decades about the tendency of SUVs to
roll over, and about the damage incurred when the vehicles' weak roof
crushes in on the heads and spines of motorists. Manufacturers have
settled the many lawsuits brought by motorists who were horribly
injured by these vehicles and facing a lifetime of pain, often imposing
gag orders to hide the documents that show this knowledge. They've also
unblinkingly faced the carnage inflicted on other motorists from high
SUV bumpers and menacing front grilles, building ever-more heavy and
terrible SUVs over time and continuing to market them militaristically,
such as the ads calling the Lincoln Navigator an ``urban assault
vehicle.'' For this designed-in harm, they are rarely held responsible.
Throughout, they've kept churning out millions of SUVs, essentially
This hearing is necessary because, although manufactures have known
for years about these hazards, instead of acting voluntarily, they have
bobbed, weaved, delayed and denied. SUVs are in fact the dangerous
offspring of a heady mix of profit-driven special interest politics and
corporate deception. Most safety standards and emissions rules are more
than thirty years old, and relentless industry lobbying has killed off
interim attempts to update them or pass badly needed new ones on
rollover or vehicle compatibility. Yet when the safety, fuel economy
and emissions laws were originally passed in the 1960s and 1970s, it
was unimagined that SUVs and other light trucks would become, as today,
nearly half of all new vehicles sold. The result is that Detroit has
retained, and jealously guarded, a massive incentive to create demand
for, and to sell, these highly profitable machines.
Despite their high price tag, SUVs are cheap to produce because of
an accumulation of regulatory exceptions and the near-total lack of up-
to-date, much-needed standards for rollover and vehicle compatibility.
The result is that consumers are unnecessarily threatened, injured and
killed. The combination of safety design shortcuts that imperil their
own occupants, aggressive and heavy designs that devastate the
occupants of other vehicles, and special, higher levels of fuel usage
and pollutants means that the SUV is a lose-lose for society. Better
regulation is sorely needed to transform this socially and
environmentally hostile vehicle into one worth selling or owning.
I. SUVs Are No Safer for Their Drivers Than Mid-size and Large Cars,
Extremely Dangerous for Others on the Road
Although many Americans purchase SUVs because they believe that
they will safely transport their families, the truth is that SUVs are
among the most dangerous vehicles on the road. They are no more safe
for their drivers than many passenger cars, and are much more dangerous
for other drivers who share the highway, making them a net social loss
for society. Yet this cycle is perpetuated by industry-spread myths
that heavier vehicles are safer per se, so consumers believe that they
must continue to ``supersize'' their own vehicle in order to remain
safe. The self-reinforcing nature of this growing highway arms race
makes the notion that SUVs are safe for their occupants one of the more
harmful myths of our time.
Yet the influx of these new urban assault vehicles is threatening
overall road safety in new and more frightening ways. While the rate of
passenger cars involved in fatal crashes per 100,000 registered
passenger cars declined by 15.1 percent between 1995 and 2001, the rate
of light truck involvement only declined only by 6.8 percent during the
same time. Thus, while light truck involvement rates in fatal crashes
have always been greater than those of passenger cars, this difference
is growing ever larger. \3\
The growing death toll from SUVs is so significant that a recent
federal study found that fatalities in rollover crashes in light
trucks, a category which includes SUVs, threatens to overwhelm all
other reductions in fatalities on the highway, an astonishing fact when
we consider that air bags are now a requirement for new vehicles and
seat belt use keeps going up. NHTSA explained that ``the increase in
light truck occupant fatalities accounts for the continued high level
of overall occupant fatalities, having offset the decline in traffic
deaths of passenger car occupants.'' \4\ In addition to the height of
the vehicles' profiles and headlamps, which block sightlines on the
highway, light truck design is so incompatible with passenger vehicles
that they are estimated to kill approximately 2,000 unnecessary vehicle
occupants each year, as noted by a previous NHTSA Administrator. \5\ A
more specific analysis found that 1,434 passenger car drivers who were
killed in collisions with light trucks would have lived if they had
been hit instead by a passenger car of the same weight as the light
truck, even under the same crash conditions. \6\ The deadly design of
light trucks has thus been responsible for thousands of unnecessary
deaths on American highways.
Overall, SUVs are no safer for their occupants than are many
passenger cars. NHTSA's fatality statistics show that, in 2001, there
were 162 deaths per million SUVs and 157 deaths per million cars,
indicating that the death rate for SUVs is slightly higher. \7\ In
fact, researchers Marc Ross, of the University of Michigan, and Tom
Wenzel, of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, have examined detailed
crash data and concluded that risks to drivers of SUVs are slightly
higher than risks to drivers of midsize and large cars, but slightly
lower than risks to drivers of compact and subcompact cars. When the
risk to drivers is combined with the risk to drivers of other vehicles,
the average SUV has about the same combined risk as the average compact
car (and higher combined risk than average mid-size and large cars,
while lower combined risk than the average subcompact). This is further
explained in the chart below. However, Ross and Wenzel found that the
risk to drivers of the safest compact and subcompact models are lower
than that of the average SUV, and are about the same as that of the
safest SUV model.
Ross and Wenzel Fatality Risk by Vehicle Type--1997-2001 model years
(using NHTSA driver death rates per million vehicles sold)
Combined Risk to other
risk driver drivers
Sports Car 225 175 50
Pickup Truck 211 108 103
Subcompact Car 141 109 33
SUV 132 79 53
Compact Car 128 90 38
Large Car 112 74 38
Mid-Size Car 97 66 32
Minivan 80 40 40
Luxury Import 60 40 20
Combined risk is the sum of the death rate for a vehicle's drives and
the drivers of other vehicles with which it collides, showing a
vehicle's net social harm in crash fatalities.
Variations within weight categories are significant. For example,
drivers of Honda Accord (3049 lbs. \8\) passenger cars and the hulking
Ford Expedition SUV (5686 lbs.) have similar risks to their drivers.
And drivers of the gargantuan Chevrolet Surburban (5567 lbs.), the
safest SUV identified, have the same fatality rates as drivers of much
smaller Volkswagen Jettas (3091 lbs.). But in each of these two cases,
the SUV model imposes over twice the risk on drivers of other vehicles
than the car model.
Ross and Wenzel have also specifically challenged the idea that
weight explains the safety levels of particular vehicles. Using the
resale value of vehicles as a proxy for the ``quality'' of their
design, their research shows that, while there is a wide range of
safety outcomes in each weight category, the risk to the driver of a
vehicle is more closely correlated with the quality of that vehicle
than with its weight. \9\ Because heavy vehicles are much more
dangerous for others on the highway, it is critical to figure out
whether this added weight actually buys better safety for the occupants
of these vehicles. Ross and Wenzel's work shows that some of the
heaviest vehicles offer only very mediocre protection for their
occupants, yet threatens other drivers, inflicting a net loss on
For just one egregious example from a different study, for every
Ford Explorer driver saved in a two-vehicle crash because that driver
chose an Explorer over a large car, five drivers are killed in vehicles
hit by Explorers. \10\ We must take up the challenge presented by Ross
and Wenzel and begin to address the net social consequences of bad
choices--choices made out of a narrowly perceived, woefully uninformed,
and factually incorrect, self-interest.
For this reason alone, a recent release of data by the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is beside the point. \11\ IIHS
claims that its numbers show that overall occupant fatality rates for
SUVs are, for the first time, lower than the overall rates for cars.
My main objections to the work by IIHS are below:
1) The IIHS has been quoted in several news articles as
emphasizing that the new study, for the ``first time,'' shows
that SUVs are safer than cars. There are several serious
problems with this claim:
a. Other statistics disagree: NHTSA's overall occupant
fatality data for all crashes for 1999 (the most recent year
NHTSA published statistics using SUVs as a vehicle class)
showed that the occupant fatality rate per 100,000 registered
vehicles was 17.78 for SUVs and a slightly lower 16.44 for
passenger cars. \12\ NHTSA's statistics include all vehicles on
b. The overall IIHS driver death rates for SUVs (73) show
they are more risky than both large (63) and very large (69)
cars, as classified by IIHS. The only real disagreement between
the Ross and Wenzel data and IIHS concerns whether mid-size
cars are also more safe than SUVs, which may be a matter of how
the researchers have sorted particular vehicles by size. In
addition, IIHS rollover death rates for SUVs (2-wheel drive =
44/four-wheel drive = 31) show that these are still far above
the overall rollover rates in single-vehicle rollover crashes
for cars (all cars = 18).
c. SUVs may be killing more people in cars: IIHS fails to
consider the effect of SUV aggressivity as their numbers grow
in proportion to the overall vehicle fleet, which could mean
that the marginal relative safety gains in SUVs are at the
expense of the occupants in passenger cars. The fatality rate
in cars has declined steadily over time, and has been cut in
half since 1980. IIHS must estimate how much further the car
fatality rate would have declined if thousands of car drivers
had not switched to more dangerous SUVs. One expert estimates
that the net increase in deaths from the aggressive design of
SUVs was 445 in 1996 alone, over what the death count would
have been had those drivers been in cars of the same weight
class. \13\ IIHS must show that their numbers are significant
outside of this ``replacement effect'' caused by the deadly
design of SUVs.
d. Very small sample size: The IIHS does not present any
indication of the statistical significance of its findings, as
it did in earlier make/model analyses. Yet the IIHS sample
size, which sorts one year of fatality data for three model
years of vehicle registrations into even smaller bins of data
regarding vehicle type (inexplicably divided by both wheelbase
and length for cars, and weight for trucks), is likely to also
be small, making a spread of 115 to 125 between SUVs and cars
in the IIHS 2001 occupant fatalities chart statistically
insignificant. In contrast, the analysis by Ross and Wenzel
uses fatality data and vehicle sales from five years, which
allows analysis of particular vehicle models. \14\ The more
detailed analysis by Ross and Wenzel indicates that SUVs are
less safe than mid-size and large cars and safer than compact
and subcompact cars for their drivers.
e. The data categories may be misleading: IIHS has included
all car types, including high risk sports and mini cars and low
risk minivans, in their car category, and has dropped the worst
performers, 2-wheel-drive SUVs, out of the SUV category below
3,000 and above 5,000 lbs. IIHS must demonstrate that this
line-drawing does not distort its results. Also, SUVs should
only be compared with vehicles with comparable attributes
appealing to SUV buyers, such as minivans, and compact, mid-
size, and large cars. Moreover, the new cars used in the IIHS
sample may be underinvolved in crashes, as drivers of new cars
tend to be more affluent and more careful on the road.
2) The study's focus on weight fails to explain the problem and
leads to the wrong result: In fact, there are tremendous
variations in the safety of vehicles for their drivers and for
others on the road within the same weight or size categories.
\15\ Other research shows weight to be inconclusive at best, as
it confounds such potentially more explanatory factors as
safety design, quality and size. A better method would be to
update the 2000 IIHS make/model analysis, so that consumers may
be informed about the particular vehicle models they drive.
The IIHS study's focus on occupant protection, without considering
off-setting aggressivity effects, perpetuates the myopic focus on
occupant safety, rather than factoring in the costs and risks for
others on the road. The IIHS results would wrongly lead individual
consumers to purchase heavier vehicles as a matter of self-protection.
Yet Ross and Wenzel have shown that drawing conclusions about safety
across weight classes without looking at make/model quality
distinctions produces a misleading picture at best.
And the IIHS approach results in a far more dangerous highway for
all of us. Encouraging consumers to ``super-size'' vehicles creates a
vehicle fleet with a far greater range between the largest and smallest
vehicles. But these kind of disparities have been shown by safety
experts to be the most devastating in two-car crashes, turning the
nation's fleet of vehicles into a combination of battering rams and
lambs to the slaughter. One study recently concluded that the risks
imposed by heavier cars on lighter car occupants outweigh the benefits
to heavier car occupants, and that the variability of distribution of
weights in the vehicle fleet increases net fatalities. \16\ Another
study demonstrated that shifting the passenger vehicle fleet to include
more SUVs in lieu of cars increased the overall number of deaths. \17\
Instead of fixing design flaws in SUVs, manufacturers frequently
claim that driver behavior is to blame. But data on driver behavior
patterns also fail to explain the difference in driver death rates
between SUVs and passenger cars. SUV drivers killed in rollovers are,
in fact, considerably less likely to be either speeding or drunk than
are passenger car drivers involved in a fatal rollover crash,
suggesting that it is easier for SUV drivers to lose control of the
vehicle and become involved in a severe crash. \18\
II. New Safety Standards On Rollover and Aggressivity Reduction Could
As General Motors pointed out in its response to Dr. Runge's
comments in Detroit, rollover crashes are rare events, representing
only 2.5 percent of all crashes. GM failed to mention that almost one
third (32 percent) of all occupant fatalities are rolloverrelated (over
10,000 per year). \19\ And, when they occur today, rollovers are often
deadly. According to NHTSA, 20 percent of fatal crashes involve a
SUVs are a major part of the rollover problem: while 22 percent of
passenger car occupant fatalities are attributable to rollover, a
whopping 61 percent of SUV occupant fatalities are. \21\ The high frame
and unstable design of SUVs makes SUV rollovers particularly likely,
and the weak roofs and poor crash protection make them deadly when they
do occur. SUV rollovers are dangerous no matter how you slice the data:
High overall death toll from SUV rollovers: SUV rollovers
resulted in 12,000 deaths in the U.S. in the 1990s and
increased from 2,064 in 2000 to 2,142 in 2001. \22\ According
to the NHTSA Administrator, in 2001, SUV occupants were far
more likely to die in fatal rollover crashes than were other
vehicle occupants. SUV occupant fatalities in rollover crashes
occurred at a rate of 9.9 per 100,000 registered vehicles,
compared to a rate of 3.53 for passenger cars, 4.33 for vans,
and 6.97 for pickup trucks. \23\
High SUV involvement in fatal rollovers: According to NHTSA,
the rate at which SUVs roll over in fatal crashes is more than
three times the rate of passenger cars. While passenger cars
roll over in fatal crashes at a rate of 3.48 per 100,000
registered vehicles, SUVs roll over at a rate of 11.06, pickups
roll over at a rate of 7.52, and vans roll over at a rate of
High rate of SUV rollover fatal crashes: While the rate of
passenger car occupants who died in fatal rollover crashes per
100,000 registered vehicles declined 9.7 percent between 1995
and 1999, the rate for SUV occupants declined only 1.8 percent
in the same time period. Critically, SUV occupant death rate in
rollover crashes has remained about three times that of
passenger car occupant deaths. \25\
And the problem is growing. The rate of passenger car occupants who
died in fatal rollover crashes per 100,000 registered vehicles declined
18.5 percent between 1991 and 2000, while the rate of light truck
occupants who died in fatal rollover crashes increased 36 percent
between 1991 and 2000. \26\
1. The High, Boxy Design of SUVs Makes Them Prone to Roll Over,
Particularly in Emergency Maneuvers
The high center of gravity of SUVs and narrow track width makes
them unstable during emergency maneuvers, such as swerving to avoid
another vehicle, pedestrian or curb, or during a tire blowout. Loading
of the vehicle, which is encouraged in SUVs by the large cargo areas,
raises the center of gravity of the vehicle, making it more dangerous
and hard to control. Consumers unaware of these handling differences
may drive SUVs more aggressively, yet be unable to handle the slower
response time and longer braking distances of a light truck. In a
rollover propensity test of the Ford Explorer by Little Rock, Arkansas,
trial attorney Tab Turner, even an expert driver aware of the planned
timing of the tire blowout was unable to keep the vehicle from rolling
Although charged by Congress to prepare a rollover propensity
minimum standard in 1991, NHTSA terminated rulemaking on the standard
in 1994. NHTSA defended its termination by citing obsolete statistics
on the number of SUVs in the vehicle population in the late 1980s,
without acknowledging the growing popularity and hazards of this
vehicle class. At that time, NHTSA promised that a consumer information
program and numerous crashworthiness protections would be forthcoming.
A decade and tens of millions SUVs later, in January 2001, NHTSA at
long last published very basic information based on a static measure of
the rollover propensity of vehicles as a part of the agency's New Car
Assessment Program, which assesses a mere 40 or so vehicles in each
model year. Rather than prominently displaying a vehicle's safety
ratings next to the sticker price to help consumers make informed
purchases, the safety information is only available on the agency's Web
site, where fewer than 1.5 percent of consumers would even think to
look. \27\ NHTSA claimed that its program would highlight the poor
performers and that public pressure would force manufacturers to
improve the rollover tendencies of vehicles.
Yet 22 SUVs in the 2003 model year received a rollover rating of
just two stars out of a total of five, indicating that they are very
prone to rollover, and the Chevrolet Blazer was awarded a pathetic
single star, the minimum handed out to any vehicle in the testing
program. A single star or two stars, as Dr. Runge indicated, on this
test is a failing grade. By imperiling anyone who unwittingly purchases
one of these unstable deathtraps, these continuing low grades show the
failure of NCAP's rollover tests to set a meaningful floor for risks
imposed on consumers, demonstrating that the program also well deserves
a failing grade.
The Transportation, Recall Enhancement, Accountability and
Documentation (TREAD) Act, passed in the wake of the Ford/Firestone
disaster, included a requirement for a dynamic rollover consumer
information program to be added to NCAP on the NHTSA Web site. This is
a step in the right direction, but consumer information, for the
reasons described above, will never be enough. NHTSA should return to
the Congressional mandate it denied in 1994 and establish a minimum
standard for rollover propensity. Between 1994 and 2001, 12,959 people
have died in SUV rollovers alone, not to mention the other people
killed or injured in other types of vehicles. \28\ No more consumers
should be a guinea pig in this ongoing, failed experiment in market
dynamics or should be forced to await the next Ford/Firestone debacle
before a meaningful remedy is implemented.
2. A Safety Standard Establishing Basic Rollover Crash Protections Is
Despite the unconscionably high death toll, rollovers are actually
highly survivable crashes, because forces in the collision are far
lower than those in many other types of highway crashes. Race car
drivers, who wear five point belts and drive vehicles with strong crash
protections, often walk away from severe crashes that would be deadly
in other vehicles because of superior crashworthiness designed into
their vehicles. This survivability means that rollovers are primarily
dangerous due to poor vehicle design. Safety belts and seat structures
are not made to keep occupants in place during a crash, and vehicle
roofs are so flimsy that they crush into occupants' heads and spines,
inflicting very serious injuries.
These important crash protections are also missing in most SUVs,
yet rollovers are particularly violent in this type of vehicle. The
box-like, windowed passenger area of an SUV (called the
``greenhouse''), protrudes into the air and in a roll hits the ground
with more force due to its shape. Rolling ``like a box'' creates a more
violent rollover crash upon impact with the ground, in comparison with
the crash dynamics of passenger cars, which roll more like tubes.
Centrifugal forces push passengers' heads towards the outside of the
roll and into contact with the vehicle's sides and roof just as the
vehicle impacts the ground, frequently crushing inward with deadly
These heightened risks distinguish SUVs from passenger cars and in
part may account for the dramatically higher rollover fatality rates.
In addition, the heavy bodies and engines of SUVs place greater
pressure on the roof during a roll, making roof strength a paramount
concern for drivers of these vehicles. Most SUV roofs are not strong
enough to withstand the impact of a rollover crash. The current roof
crush standard became effective in 1973 and has been revised since that
time only for extension to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVWR)
of 6,000 pounds or less and to apply to vehicles with raised roofs.
\29\ This weight limit has allowed manufacturers to increase the gross
weight of SUVs and pickups over 6,000 pounds to evade the standard,
meaning that the vehicles most in need of a strong roof are totally
unregulated. The weight limit should be raised by Congressional action
to 10,000 pounds to correct this egregious oversight.
NHTSA's 1994 termination of work on a rollover propensity standard
was followed by subsequent public statements in which the agency
promised many crashworthiness improvements, including a stronger roof
crush standard as well as requirements for better door latches, door
hinges and upper side impact protection. Among these tragically broken
promises, the roof crush standard remains far out-of-date.
In order to ``beat'' the standard in recent years, manufacturers
have taken the short cut of merely improving the bonding of the
windshield to the vehicle structure, which helps the vehicle pass
NHTSA's weak test without helping occupants, because in a crash the
windshield is typically gone by the end of the first roll. Once the
windshield is gone, typically one-third of the roof strength disappears
with it, and the roof crushes.
When roofs crush in a rollover, the cardinal rule that occupant
space not be intruded upon is broken. The survival space for occupants
is greatly limited or eliminated altogether, so that the heads and
spines of occupants contact the roof. In addition, roof crush can open
ejection portals--making windows and the windshield area very large and
leading to ejection of occupants, which is frequently fatal. The
current static standard tests only one side of the vehicle, failing to
provide any indication of what will happen in a roll when the following
side (rather than the leading side) impacts the ground. Because in a
real-world rollover the roof is already weakened by the first impact,
and the windshield shatters in the first roll, roofs should be tested
under those conditions. Although NHTSA has issued a general request for
comments over a year ago, a schedule of deadlines for the agency to
issue a proposed and final rule is sorely needed and should be set out
What is needed is a dynamic test that will provide the basis for a
minimum roof strength standard, or, at a minimum, an updated static
test for both sides of the roof with the windshield removed, and both
should be applicable to vehicles over 6,000 lbs. In addition, Congress
should require crash protections that will protect occupants in
rollovers, such as safety belts that tighten in a roll, advanced window
glazing and side head protection air bags to keep ejection portals from
opening, and air bag sensors that will deploy the air bags in a
B. Anything But Simple: The Dubious Physics of SUVs Makes Them Highly
Aggressive in Multiple Vehicle Crashes
The facts about SUV aggressiveness \30\ in multiple vehicle crashes
are horrifying. Because of the height, weight and structural rigidity
of SUVs, when they collide frontally with passenger cars, drivers of
passenger cars are over four times more likely to die as the drivers of
the SUV. And the destruction in a side impact is even more shocking.
When an SUV hits the near side of a passenger car, the driver of the
passenger car is over 16 times more likely to die than the driver of
the SUV. \31\
In front-end (``head-on'') collisions with passenger cars, the
higher SUV will ``run up'' the front of the car. In side impact
collisions (``broadside'' or ``T-bone''), the SUV will override the
passenger car door, thus invading the occupant compartment and posing a
much greater risk of injury to the driver and passengers, as compared
to a comparable collision between two passenger cars. Light trucks, a
category including SUVs, striking a passenger car in the side are more
likely to intrude at least six inches into the occupant compartment,
more likely to kill, and more likely to override the door of the target
car, than is a passenger car striking another passenger car. \32\
Driver Fatality Ratios in Two-Vehicle Crashes \33\
Ratio of other
Vehicles Involved in Crash Type of Crash fatalities to
Passenger Car: Passenger Car Frontal 1:1
Full Size Van: Passenger Car Frontal 1:6
Full Size Pickup: Passenger Car Frontal 1:6.2
SUV: Passenger Car Frontal 1:4.3
Minivan: Passenger Car Frontal 1:2.6
Compact Pickup: Passenger Car Frontal 1:2.6
Passenger Car striking Passenger Car Side impact 1:7.8
Full Size Pickup striking Passenger Car Side impact 1:26.1
SUV striking Passenger Car Side impact 1:16.3
The problem of SUV incompatibility is a matter of design, and not
merely weight. For every million registered cars weighing between 3,500
and 3,900 pounds, 45 deaths occur in vehicles struck by these cars. For
every million registered sport utility vehicles in the same weight
class, 76 deaths occur in vehicles struck by the SUV. \34\ Other
studies have confirmed this result, finding that even cars in the same
weight grouping as SUV are far less dangerous for other vehicles on the
Ross and Wenzel paint an even more sophisticated picture, by
pointing out that that, while SUVs and pickup trucks are the most
aggressive vehicles as a class, particular designs of make and model
vehicles within these categories are much better or worse than others.
Ross and Wenzel's Top 20 Most Risky Vehicles (by vehicle make, 1997-2001
Rank in list Type of Vehicle Make and Model risk
1 Pickup Truck Ford F-Series 238
2 Pickup Truck Dodge Ram 225
3 Pickup Truck Chevrolet S-10 216
4 Pickup Truck Chevrolet C/K 203
5 Subcompact Car Pontiac Sunfire 202
6 Subcompact Car Dodge Neon 199
7 Pickup Truck Ford Ranger 196
8 SUV Jeep Wrangler 194
9 Pickup Truck GMC C/K- series 193
10 Subcompact Car Chevrolet Cavalier 186
11 Pickup Truck Dodge Dakota 184
12 SUV Chevrolet Blazer 172
13 Pickup Truck Toyota Tacoma 171
14 Compact Car Pontiac Grand Am 157
15 SUV Ford Explorer 148
16 Large Car Lincoln Town Car 147
17 Midsize Car Dodge Stratus 143
18 SUV Chevrolet Tahoe 141
19 SUV Toyota 4Runner 137
20 Large Car Buick LeSabre 133
Combined risk is the driver fatality risk and risk to other drivers per
million vehicles sold
As this suggests, improvements in the compatibility of vehicle
design could save many lives. Researchers have found that the light
truck bumpers--either alone or in combination with the front grille or
front hood--were the component most often associated with passenger car
damage. \36\ Another study for NHTSA revealed that hood profile--the
height of the hood of a light truck--was the most important factor in
the aggressiveness of a light truck. In this study of twelve
collisions, the researchers found that a lowered profile (a tapered
hood) for the light truck reduced the probability of serious injury to
occupants of the struck car from 97 percent to 11 percent. \37\
Some manufacturers are already applying technology to reduce the
carnage. Mercedes-Benz has designed the bumper of its SUV to be the
same height as its C-Class compact luxury car, to reduce the
probability that the front of its SUV will invade the occupant
compartment of passenger cars in a side impact crash. Toyota has
designed its Lexus LX 470 SUV with an ``active height control system,''
which lowers the ride height of the SUV by as much as four inches if it
is driven at high speeds. \38\ By adding a lower cross-member bar to
the vehicle below the front bumper, the Volvo's new XC90 SUV better
engages the structure of small vehicles, increasing its crash
compatibility. And to better protect pedestrians and bicyclists, the
rounded front of the XC90 is smooth and the engine is positioned low in
relation to the hood, allowing the hood to dissipate crash forces
rather than transferring them to the person hit. \39\
These kinds of changes should be the norm, rather than the
exception. Without regulation, they will remain the province of luxury
manufacturers, yet these designs show what is feasible if a socially
responsible attitude toward the safety of others is a priority. NHTSA
has been collecting crash profile information as a part of its New Car
Assessment Program for the past decade, yet it has never used this
information to suggest regulatory changes or propose an aggressivity
reduction standard. It is far past time to act on this information and
to establish basic standards to limit vehicular violence by urban
III. While the Worst Risks Remain Unregulated, SUVs Exploit Other Key
SUVs provide a case study in industry muscle overpowering
government. Sailing through loophole after loophole, the vehicles
exploit numerous omissions and special favors, from the tax code to
fuel economy rules and safety protections. In addition to the extra
costs and boondoggles listed below, SUVs also inflict needless harm on
the public health, emitting smog-forming, greenhouse gases that cause
respiratory maladies and global warming.
A Legacy of Loopholes: SUVs are Regulatory Renegades
Emissions Evasion: In 1997, the auto industry brokered a
voluntary agreement with the EPA that protected Detroit's
largest and most profitable SUVs from having to make any
pollution improvements until 2004. In addition to befouling the
air with high levels of smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse
gases, the emissions exemption also encouraged an upsizing of
SUVs above the 6,000 pound threshold, helping to make large
SUVs the most rapidly expanding market segment. In 2004, a new
emissions program is scheduled to take effect that will impose
new fleet requirements on average emissions.
Fuel Economy: A Twisted Tale of Two Vehicle Classes: In
1978, when Congress passed the first fuel economy law,
instructing NHTSA to set the Corporate Average Fuel Economy
(CAFE) standards for passenger cars at 27.5 miles per gallon
(mpg) it told NHTSA to set standards separately for light
trucks (now set at 20.7 mpg). In designing these categories,
NHTSA never imagined that trucks would one day morph into
popular passenger vehicles, constituting one-half of all new
vehicles sold. Furthermore, the light truck standard applies
only to vehicles under 8,500 pounds. Consequently, automobile
companies push vehicles above the upper limit and game the
rules defining cars and light trucks to artificially deflate
Subsidies and Tax Breaks for SUVs Rob Federal Coffers and
Extravagance at a High Price for the Public: The luxury SUV
giveaway began in the 1980s as a tax break to enable small
farmers and construction companies to deduct the cost of their
pickup trucks as a business expense. \40\ A business that
purchases one of the 38 different SUVs that qualify can
immediately deduct $25,000 from the sticker price, and the Bush
stimulus package of 2002 allots another 30 percent depreciation
bonus on top of a 20 percent deduction over five years, as well
as an existing exemption from luxury surcharge taxes. Instead
of closing this sinkhole for public revenues, the Bush
administration is seeking to raise the initial deduction to an
incredible $75,000, a figure that would effectively cover the
entire cost of a large, luxury SUV. \41\ Because the loophole
applies only to ``light trucks'' exceeding 6,000 pounds, some
small business owners have admitted that the tax breaks have
caused them to purchase large SUVs when they would otherwise
have bought smaller vehicles. \42\ According to Taxpayers for
Common Sense, the light-truck loophole costs the federal
government between $840 million and $986 million yearly.
Thankfully, efforts to close this egregious waste of tax
dollars and safety threat have been made in both the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-CA)
introduced the ``SUV Business Tax Loophole Closure Act,'' S.
265, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D.-CA) offered the same title as H.R.
727 for consideration by the House.
``Light Truck'' Gas Guzzlers Need Not Pay: When adopted in
1978, the gas guzzler tax sought to penalize individuals who
consume more than their fair share of gasoline. Legislators
chose not to subject ``light trucks'' to the fine because these
vehicles were used primarily for work purposes and made up only
a small percentage of the vehicle fleet. Today, SUVs are
flooding the market place, draining oil reserves, and spoiling
the environment. Exempting SUVs from a gas guzzler penalty
violates legislative intent and effectively rewards consumers
for driving socially irresponsible vehicles.
Designed for Cars, Safety Standards Don't Adequately Protect
Holes in Side Impact Protection: Unlike passenger cars, a
loophole in the federal safety standards requires SUVs over
6,000 pounds to meet only a weak, outdated side impact crash
test, but not the more effective moving barrier test.
Consequently, many larger SUVs need not offer reinforced side
door crash protection.
Roof Strength Weak on Top: Despite their high risk of rollover,
SUVs over 6,000 pounds need not meet any minimum crash
protection standard for roof strength. In a rollover crash,
roofs of SUVs typically crush into their occupants' heads,
inflicting serious injury and death.
Bumper Height and Strength Encourage High Costs and
Aggressivity: In order to minimize damage in low speed crashes
and to ensure crash compatibility between vehicles, passenger
cars must meet very weak standards for bumper strength and
standards for height, none of which apply to SUVs.
Consequently, crashes involving SUVs result in more severe
property damage and higher insurance payouts than passenger
cars. The lack of bumper height requirements creates a menace
to other vehicles on the road.
Missing Child Restraint Anchorage Systems: Although marketed as
family vehicles, the largest SUVs (above 8,500 lbs.), unlike
passenger cars, are not required to install anchorage systems
to accommodate child restraints.
Brake Light Requirements Dimmed Down for SUVs: Unlike passenger
cars, many SUVs have lower conspicuity because they need not
have a center high-mounted stop lamp.
SUV Manufacturers Evade Air Bag Safeguards That Applied to
Cars: In 1997, auto manufacturers successfully convinced NHTSA
to allow them to reduce the test requirements for air bags,
changing the test from a 30 mph barrier test to a less
demanding sled test. Having never been required to comply with
the protective standards applicable to passenger cars,
manufacturers wished to avoid doing the vehicle re-design for
light trucks that would make them, overall, more energy
absorbing and reduce the need for a more aggressive air bag. In
its May 2000 recent final rule on advanced air bags, NHTSA
continued its bad habit of letting them off the hook. Instead
of asking SUV makers to do more, NHTSA reduced the
protectiveness of the requirements for all vehicles, including
cars and light trucks, by lowering the common standard to a 25
SUV and Light Truck Tire Performance Is a Safety Blowout: Since
the government established separate performance standards for
passenger car tires and light truck tires in 1968, light truck
tires have not been held to the same high speed and endurance
requirements as passenger car tires, placing consumers at risk
of dangerous blowouts. As evidenced by the Ford-Firestone
debacle, light truck tire failures have resulted in countless
deaths and injuries. A new standard is pending that will apply
to all vehicles under 10,000 lbs., but the agency has yet to
issue the final rule.
SUV Braking Distances Historically Stopped Short on Safety:
Government safety standards for minimum braking performance
originally allotted longer braking distances for SUVs and light
trucks than for passenger cars. Because they are typically
built on truck underbodies, many SUVs lack independent rear
suspensions and are equipped with inferior braking systems that
result in poor emergency handling. In one test on wet pavement
in the late 1990s, fully loaded cars like the Cadillac DeVille
and Toyota Camry had stopping distances between 164 and 174
feet, while Ford's Expedition SUV required a lengthy 220 feet
to come to a halt. \43\ New braking performance requirements
just took effect this model year, but the longer distances will
still plague millions of SUVs currently on the road.
IV. The Market for SUVs Reflects the Impact of Advertising Rather Than
a Need for Vehicles With the Capabilities of SUVs
Although manufacturers claim consumer choice drives the light truck
market, they spend billions each year to both create and enlarge these
consumer preferences. The auto industry spends more per year on
advertising than any other industry in the United States, and more than
the next three biggest spenders (financial services,
telecommunications, and national restaurant chains) combined. \44\ SUV
advertising, in particular, has grown to exorbitant levels in the past
decade, exceeding in percentages even the growth of SUV sales. In 1990,
manufacturers spent $172.5 million on SUV advertising, and in 2000 they
spent an incredible $1.51 billion. Over the last decade, manufacturers
spent over $9 billion to advertise their highly profitable SUV. \45\
Automakers have made a huge financial investment in an attempt to
persuade consumers to purchase SUVs. Yet the argument that the market
for SUVs somehow correlates to a real economic demand would be
laughable if it were not so frequently rehearsed by automakers. Despite
being marketed to consumers as rugged, go-anywhere vehicles, only a
small percentage of SUVs are actually used for their off-road and
towing abilities. \46\ SUVs are, instead, an expensive fantasy packaged
up for America by Detroit--an ``off-road luxury'' vehicle marketed
primarily to suburbanites with little need for these features and
little awareness of the safety risks. Detroit's fantastical images of
trucks marauding through empty mountainscapes bear so little
resemblance to the vehicle's typical use that it is patently
implausible that the SUV market reflects a true social need.
V. Voluntary Standards Are No Solution
``The promotion of motor vehicle safety through voluntary standards
has largely failed. The unconditional imposition of mandatory standards
at the earliest practicable date is the only course commensurate with
the highway death and injury toll.''--Committee Report on S. 3005, the
Traffic Safety Act of 1966 \47\
On February 13, 2003, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (the
Alliance) and the IIHS wrote a letter to Dr. Runge acknowledging the
need to improve SUV frontto- side and front-to-front crash protection
to address vehicle incompatibility and stiffness, or aggressivity. This
is the first industry-wide acknowledgment of such deficiencies in SUVs
and other light trucks.
Yet this long-overdue admission appears mainly calculated to
convince federal regulators and others that a voluntary effort to
improve vehicles should replace any new move to regulate the safety of
SUVs. Buying into this obvious delaying tactic would be a grave
mistake. The vague promises and half-hearted inquiries (``possible
changes . . . need to be explored'') described in the letter are no
substitute for a public process resulting in mandatory safety
improvements required of the entire light truck fleet.
Automakers have long asked legislators to ``trust them'' to improve
safety, an argument Congress specifically considered and rejected when
it enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966,
the Act giving rise to NHTSA. In lobbying against the Act, auto
manufacturers tried to sell Congress on the concept of voluntary
standards. The plausibility of their proposal was roundly criticized by
Congress and ultimately denied.
Legislators were right. The historical path of automakers'
voluntary efforts is paved with broken promises. From General Motors'
(GM's) promises in 1970 to voluntarily put air bags in all its vehicles
by the mid-l970s (GM installed just 10,000 in model year 1974 and 1975
vehicles and then discontinued the program), to Ford, Daimler/Chrysler
and GM's recent recantation of their widely publicized 2001 promises to
voluntarily improve the fuel economy of their light trucks by 25
percent (withdrawn after the threat of Congressional action on fuel
economy receded), ``voluntary'' is often just another name for the
manufacturers' tactical whims.
The Alliance/IIHS letter suggests that ``one possible result could
be development of voluntary standards, such as those previously
developed for side air bags.'' The limited inquiry conducted by the
side impact air bag working group (an industry group working only on
injury prevention) is an extremely poor example on which to model the
crucial SUV safety standards that are needed. Instead, the side impact
air bag group is representative of many problems that infest a
voluntary alternative to regulation.
This group has thus far been plagued by the following serious
drawbacks, among others:
The narrowness of the group's focus on injury prevention
from the air bags (mitigating the down-side), rather than
injury reduction in all passengers (exploring the up-side), has
accomplished little and yet has precluded broader efforts to
develop a requirement for side impact head protection air bags;
Real-world data on the crashes involving these air bags is
scarce due to the lack of a requirement for their installation
and the resulting low fleet penetration;
Core sections of industry group meetings are closed to the
public, and policy analysts in attendance from consumer groups
have been asked to leave mid-meeting;
Some manufacturers, including General Motors, have since
ceased installing side air bags in some models, and the lack of
a safety standard enables this capriciousness.
In general, a promise to develop voluntary standards is merely
grounds for obfuscation, delay, secret meetings, and deniability. A
significant body of academic research has repeatedly shown that
voluntary standards fail, for the following reasons:
Closed, secret processes and meetings: The public is shut
out of the development of the proposal, which instead is
designed in secret by industry working groups;
Lack of procedural and judicial oversight: Industry group
decision makers are not subject to oversight, compliance with
statutory requirements, and judicial review of decisions;
Weak and non-binding results: Proposals are invariably weak
because they represent the lowest common denominator among
companies looking out for their own costs and product plans,
and there is no obligation to install technology in compliance
with the group standard, meaning that companies can change
their minds at will and decide to withdraw any protection
offered by the new standard;
No accountability: The public has no means to secure an
independent evaluation of the quality of the industry's
voluntary tests or standards;
No transparency: The public receives no verification that a
particular vehicle actually complies with the industry's
voluntary tests, as they do with government standards that are
subject to public compliance testing and enforcement, and there
is no vehicle sticker at the point-of-sale to indicate that a
standard is met;
No baseline for safety: High-income purchasers that can
afford safety extras may be protected, but low-income
purchasers remain vulnerable to cost-based decisions by
As the Committee Report on the Traffic Safety Act of 1966 observed
in rejecting the option of standards developed on a voluntary basis,
such as through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE):
These SAE standards are the product of a committee consensus,
subject to a single manufacturer's veto, while affording no
consumer or user representation: Compliance is voluntary. There
exist no procedures to compel their adoption, monitor their
use, or evaluate their effectiveness.
A voluntary standards program is a particularly inapt solution
where, as here, manufacturers have long been on notice of the serious
safety hazards in these vehicles and where the externalities of their
decisions to produce ever-more aggressive and deadly vehicles are
imposing needless suffering and costs on all of us.
VI. Better Safeguards Are Needed to Protect the Public
In addition to the shocking toll in lives, devastating injuries,
and unnecessary suffering, the monetary costs of our failure to
regulate SUVs is staggering. NHTSA estimates the ``comprehensive cost''
\48\ of each motor vehicle crash fatality in FY 2000 at approximately
$3.4 million. Without adjusting for inflation, the cost to society of
SUV rollover fatalities in FY 2001 alone cost the United States
approximately $7.3 billion, and has totaled a shocking 44 billion since
1994, when NHTSA terminated its rulemaking on a minimum propensity
standard. \49\ The 2,000 unnecessary deaths resulting from the
aggressivity of light trucks deaths cost the U.S. economy approximately
$6.8 billion per year. \50\
Congress could put a halt to the carnage, the human suffering, and
the incredible waste, by requiring simple, long-overdue measures to
address the safety of SUVs, light trucks and other vehicles, up to
1) NHTSA should develop and implement a minimum rollover
2) NHTSA should issue a requirement for basic rollover
crashworthiness protections, including requirements for:
a. Safety belts that employ sensors which pretension in a
rollover crash (currently belts remain slack in a rollover from
the lack of pressure);
b. Side impact head and frontal air bags with sensors that
trigger inflation in a rollover crash;
c. A dynamic roof crush standard, and, in the interim, a
revised static standard which test both sides of the roof with
the windshield removed;
d. Roof structures equipped with interior, energy absorbing
materials to reduce damage to the occupant should any body part
of the occupant contact the roof;
e. Advanced window glazing for impact protection in side
f. Improved seat structure and belt placement to contain and
protect occupants by integrating safety belts into the seat
3) NHTSA should issue aggressivity reduction and vehicle
4) Close the luxury tax loophole as it applies to SUVs;
5) NHTSA should improve the safety of 15-passenger vans, which
are plagued by many of the same rollover problems as SUVs are,
such as in legislation recommended by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-
6) Improving funding for NHTSA to develop regulatory standards
and track realworld crash data;
7) Placing vehicle safety information on stickers at the point-
of-sale and changing the NCAP program to grades that indicate
success and failure rather than unclear results with stars;
8) Improving the fuel economy of light trucks, which the
National Academy of Sciences found would accrue safety benefits
if improvements were targeted at vehicles weighing more than
It is far less expensive for manufacturers to undertake a
comprehensive re-design of vehicles for safety and fuel economy at the
same time, as was the case when the initial fuel economy standards were
targeted for the same time-period as new occupant protection
requirements. Therefore, Congress should ask manufacturers to bring
their vehicle fleets into this century by upgrading the vehicles'
safety and fuel economy in one combined design campaign.
These eight crucial changes would transform American highways by
realizing the promise of the safety program first envisioned in 1966--
saving countless lives, improving the quality of vehicles sold in
America, and making the United States once again a leader in automotive
1. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs--The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 193 (referring
to Joksch, Hans C., ``Vehicle Design versus Aggressivity,'' (Apr.
2000), DOT HS 809 194, at 40-42).
2. See Id. at 32.
3. See National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2001
Motor Vehicle Crash Data from FARS and GES, at 17 (the rate of
passenger cars involved in fatal crashes per 100,000 registered
passenger cars declined by 15.1 percent between 1995 and 2001 (from a
rate of 25.11 to a rate of 21.31), the rate of light truck involvement
only declined by 6.8 percent during the same time (from a rate of 28.13
to a rate of 26.23)).
4. National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA),
Characteristics of Fatal Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438, at 22 (Apr.
2002), at 13 (emphasis added).
5. See Bradsher, Keith. ``Light Trucks Will Get Designs That Are
Safer, Official Says,'' New York Times, June 2, 1998 quoting former
NHTSA Administrator Dr. Ricardo Martinez.
6. See Joksch, Hans C., ``Vehicle Design versus Aggressivity,''
April 2002 at 41; Further calculations contained in an electronic mail
communications between Public Citizen and safety researcher Hans Joksch
stated that: ``In 1996, 890 car occupants died in collisions with SUVs.
If the risk in collisions with cars of the same weight had been half as
high, as estimated at that time, 445 deaths would not have occurred if
SUVs had been replaced by cars of the same weight.'' Email from Hans
Joksch to Laura MacCleery of Public Citizen, on February 24, 2003 (on
file at Public Citizen).
7. Cloud, John, ``Why The SUV Is All The Rage,'' Time Magazine,
Feb. 24, 2003; See also NCSA, Characteristics of Fatal Rollover
Crashes, DOT HS 809 438, at 22 (Apr. 2002), (In 1999, there were 16.44
passenger car deaths per 100,000 registered passenger cars compared to
17.78 SUV deaths per 100,000 registered SUVs.).
8. All four figures use curb weight. Curb weight is the weight of a
vehicle that is ready to drive, with all fluid levels topped up and a
full tank of gas, but without occupants or cargo.
9. Ross, Mark, Wenzel, Tom, ``Losing Weight to Save Lives,''
prepared for the Commission on Energy Policy, January 29, 2003.
10. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 449, footnote 13
(Leaving aside SUVs and considering just the number of drivers killed
per 5,000 crashes, in which a large car hits another car of any size,
an average of 2.2 drivers die in large cars and 5.5 drivers die in the
other cars that were struck. Together these numbers render a total of
7.7 deaths per 5,000 crashes. Because the large cars are heavier than
most of the cars they hit, the drivers of the large cars tend to fare
better. When looking at the crashes involving Explorers, on average
only 1.2 Explorer drivers die when involved in the same number of
collisions with cars. Compared to the 2.2 drivers who died in the large
cars, the Explorers actually save a life. However this is misleading
because, when hit by Explorers instead of large cars, the death rate
for drivers of other cars rises dramatically, doubling to 11 deaths.
Therefore, on average 5.5 extra driver deaths occur in the struck cars.
The combined death rate for drivers on both sides of the collision has
now risen to 12.2 for collisions involving Explorers, compared with 7.7
when there were just large cars hitting the other cars.).
11. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, ``Fatality Facts:
Passenger Vehicles as of November 2002,'' (Feb. 14, 2003).
12. See, National Center for Statistics and Analysis,
Characteristics of Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438 (April 2002), at
13. See Joksch, Hans C., ``Vehicle Design versus Aggressivity,''
April 2002 at 41; Further calculations contained in an electronic mail
communications between Public Citizen and safety researcher Hans Joksch
stated that: ``In 1996, 890 car occupants died in collisions with SUVs.
If the risk in collisions with cars of the same weight had been half as
high, as estimated at that time, 445 deaths would not have occurred if
SUVs had been replaced by cars of the same weight.'' Email from Hans
Joksch to Laura MacCleery of Public Citizen, on February 24, 2003 (on
file at Public Citizen).
14. See Ross, Mark, Wenzel, Tom, ``Losing Weight to Save Lives,''
prepared for the Commission on Energy Policy, January 29, 2003.
15. Id. 22
16. Greene, David L., ``Fuel Economy, Weight and Safety: Its What
you Think You Know, That Just Isn't So,'' Presentation to Automotive
Composites Conference, Society of Plastics Engineers, Detroit,
Michigan, September 19, 2001, at 12.
17. Id. at 12.
18. See NCSA, Characteristics of Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438,
(Apr. 2002), at 34 and 37 (In fatal rollover crashes, fifty-three
percent of passenger car drivers were speeding compared with 39 percent
of SUV drivers. And speed is an important factor in the fatality of
rollover crashes; in 2001; nearly three quarters of all fatal rollovers
took place on roads where the speed limit was 55 miles per hour or
higher. Furthermore, while passenger car and SUV drivers were equally
likely to have a 0.01 to 0.09 Blood Alcohol Concentration when getting
into a fatal rollover crash, 39 percent of passenger car drivers were
at 0.10 or over while only 27 percent of SUV drivers were (0.08 is the
legal level for intoxication)).
19. Id. at 14.
20. Id. at 3.
21. Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, ``Meeting the
Safety Challenge'' at Automotive News World Congress, Dearborn,
Michigan, Jan. 14, 2003.
22. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 164.
23. Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, ``Meeting the
Safety Challenge'' at the Automotive News World Congress, Dearborn,
Michigan, Jan. 14, 2003.
24. See NCSA, Characteristics of Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438,
(Apr. 2002) at 21.
25. Id. at 14 and 20; See also ``Registration Data for 1975-2001:
Data Source'' FHWA and Polk,'' provided by a NCSA researcher to Public
Citizen on Feb. 6, 2003, (the rate of passenger car occupants who died
in fatal rollover crashes declined 9.7 percent between 1995 and 1999
(from 4.12 to 3.72 deaths per 100,000 registered vehicles), the rate
for SUV occupants only declined 1.8 percent in the same time period
(from 11.38 to 11.17 deaths per 100,000 registered vehicles.).
26. See NCSA, Characteristics of Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438,
(Apr. 2002), at 14 and 20; See also ``Registration Data for 1975-2001:
Data Source'' FHWA and Polk'' provided by a NCSA researcher to Public
Citizen on Feb. 6, 2003, (The rate of passenger car occupants who died
in fatal rollover crashes declined 18.5 percent between 1991 and 2000
(from 4.32 to 3.52 deaths per 100,000 registered vehicles) while the
rate of light truck occupants who died in fatal rollover crashes
increased 36 percent between 1991and 2000 (from 7.55 to 10.27 deaths
per 100,000 registered vehicles.).
27. See NHTSA, Status Report for Rollover Prevention and Injury
Mitigation, Docket No. 91-68, at 11 (May 1996), (NHTSA's own research
shows that only about 1.5 percent of consumers would consider
researching auto safety issues by contacting a federal agency, while
about half would think to request safety information from auto dealers.
The report indicates that a 1995 Customer Satisfaction Survey reflected
that less than 50 percent of the people surveyed would go to the auto
dealer for information. Seventy-six percent of the people polled
considered safety to be an important factor. However, less than 50
percent of the total population polled said they would request
information from the dealer. Only 60 out of 4,000 people said they
would contact a federal agency for auto safety information.)
28. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Analysis of NHTSA SUV
29. The current standard requires a static test, in which the
platen on the vehicle roof corner, above the A pillar, must bear one
and a half times the vehicle's weight with the windshield intact.
30. ``Aggressivity'' of a vehicle is generally defined as the risk
of fatal or serious injury to occupants of other vehicles with which it
might collide. See, Joksch, Hans, et al., Vehicle Aggressivity: Fleet
Characterization Using Traffic Collision Data, U.S.Dept. of Tran.,
N.H.T.S.A., DOT HS 808-679 (Feb. 1998).
31. Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, ``Meeting the
Safety Challenge'' at the Automotive News World Congress, Dearborn,
Michigan, Jan. 14, 2003.
32. Terhune, K.W., Ranney, T.A., et al., ``Study of Light Truck
Aggressivity,'' Calspan Field Services, Inc. (Feb. 1984).
33. Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, ``Meeting the
Safety Challenge'' at the Automotive News World Congress, Dearborn,
Michigan, Jan. 14, 2003.
34. See Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, Vol.
43, No. 9, Oct. 30, 1999, at 3.
35. See Joksch, Hans C., ``Vehicle Design versus Aggressivity,''
April 2002 at 41; Further calculations contained in an electronic mail
communications between Public Citizen and safety researcher Hans Joksch
stated that: ``In 1996, 890 car occupants died in collisions with SUVs.
If the risk in collisions with cars of the same weight had been half as
high, as estimated at that time, 445 deaths would not have occurred if
SUVs had been replaced by cars of the same weight.'' Email from Hans
Joksch to Laura MacCleery of Public Citizen, on February 24, 2003 (on
file at Public Citizen).
36. Terhune, K.W., Ranney, T.A., et al., ``Study of Light Truck
Aggressivity,'' Calspan Field Services, Inc. (Feb. 1984).
37. Monk, M.W., et al., ``Striking Vehicle Aggressiveness Factors
for Side Impacts,'' U.S. Dept. of Trans., NHTSA, NAD-52 (January 1986).
38. Gardner, Greg, et al., ``Fine-Tuning the Laws of Physics,''
Ward's Auto World vol. 34, no. 4 (April 1998).
39. Lamm, John, ``The Safety Story,'' Road & Track Guide to the
Volvo XC90, 2002, at 48.
40. See http://www.taxpayer.net/TCS/whitepapers/SUVtaxbreak.htm#10
(visited February 20, 2003), describing Section 280F(d)(5) of the
Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
41. McCarthy, Sheryl, ``Eliminate SUV Tax Giveaway Which Helps Rich
and Busts Budget,'' The Detroit News, Feb. 14, 2003.
42. Ball, Jeffrey, Lundegaard, Karen, ``Quirk in Law Lets Some SUV
Drivers Take Big Deduction,'' The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19, 2002.
43. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 138.
43. NCSA, Characteristics of Rollover Crashes, April 2002, at 3.
44. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 112.
45. Id. at 112. (Financial analysts estimate profits of $12,000 for
Ford's Expedition SUV and $15,000 for the Ford Navigator.) Id. at 84
46. See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 112 (``Auto
industry surveys show that one in six SUV owners us their vehicles at
least once a year for towing, especially boats. Some owners, no more
than one in 10 and perhaps fewer than one in 100, also use their SUVs
for off-road driving.'').
47. Committee Report on S. 3005, The Traffic Safety Act of 1966,
June 23, 1966, at 271, 273-74.
48. See Blincoe, Lawrence J., et al, ``The Economic Impact of Motor
Vehicle Crashes 2002,'' May, 2002, at Appendix A, DOT HS 809 446, (A
comprehensive cost estimate combines both economic cost and values for
``intangible'' consequences, by estimating quality-adjusted life years
lost. NHTSA estimates that the value of fatal risk reduction lies in
the range of $2 to $7 million per life saved.).
49. See Id to reach the sum provided, (The death toll from SUV
rollovers was 2,142 in 2001, according to NHTSA crash statistics. This
figure is multiplied by the cost numbers used by NHTSA in its last
Appendix A--Blaming Consumers for SUV Dangers Is Wrong on the Facts
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has recently highlighted
what it calls the ``shared responsibility'' for safety. But the facts
show that it is manufacturers' shoddy designs, and not consumer
misbehavior, that is to blame for the elevated deaths in SUV crashes.
In fact, federal government statistics show that the behavior of
SUV drivers is actually slightly better than that of passenger car
drivers. SUV occupants have higher levels of seatbelt use, and lower
levels of speeding and drinking while driving, than do occupants of
passenger cars. Its unclear what more Detroit would have consumers do.
SUV occupants are more likely that occupants of passenger cars to wear
In 2002, SUV and van occupants were observed by federal
researchers to be wearing their belts 78 percent of the time, a
rate slightly higher than the 77 percent of passenger car
occupants who were belted.
The rate at which SUV and van occupant belt use is growing
is faster than the rate for passenger cars--between the fall of
1998 and June of 2002, belt use in SUVs and vans increased 11.4
percent while belt use in passenger cars only increased 8.5
Source: National Center Statistics and Analysis, National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Safety Belt and Helmet
Use in 2002--Overall Results, Sept. 2002, at 8.
SUV drivers are also less likely to speed in a fatal rollover crash.
Fifty-three percent of passenger car drivers were speeding
when they got into fatal single-vehicle rollover crashes, while
39 percent of SUV drivers were.
Speed is an important factor in the fatality of rollover
crashes. In 2001, nearly three quarters of all fatal rollovers
took place where the speed limit was 55 miles per hour or
higher. Yet rollover deaths in SUVs remain disastrously high.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
Characteristics of Fatal Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438,
April 2002, at 34.
SUV drivers are less likely to be drunk when they get involved in a
Drivers of SUVs who were involved in fatal rollover crashes
were less likely to have a high positive Blood Alcohol
Concentration than were drivers of passenger cars. Overall, 39
percent of passenger car drivers had a 0.10 BAC or more in a
fatal rollovers while 27 percent of SUV drivers did.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
Characteristics of Fatal Rollover Crashes, DOT HS 809 438,
April 2002, at 37.
Appendix D--Industry Falsehoods and Obstruction Have Delayed
Development of Meaningful Rollover Crash Protections for Thirty Years
GM Lied to NHTSA About the Need To Test Both Sides of Car Roofs
On January 6, 1971, NHTSA proposed a roof intrusion protection rule
that would test both front corners of the roof on passenger vehicles.
General Motors Corporation (GM) and the Automobile Manufacturers
Association (which later became the Alliance of Autombile
Manufacturers) argued in comments to the docket that testing both sides
of the roof was unnecessary because it ``in most cases roof structure
damage is distributed to only one side of the roof in an actual
rollover and that, because the roof is symmetrical it makes no
difference which side of the roof is selected for testing.'' NHTSA
subsequently published a roof crush requirement, which remains in
effect today that tests only a single side of the vehicle roof.
Litigation in Lambert v. GM subsequently revealed documents showing
that in testing following NHTSA's proposal, in March of 1971, GM tested
six production car bodies on both sides of the roof and five of the six
failed to meet the test. NHTSA should at a minimum, do as it had
initially proposed and require manufacturers to meet a test that
applies a more real-world scenario by testing both the leading and
following sides of the roof in a rollover crash.
Industry Claims Passengers ``Dive'' Into Roofs, Yet Roof Strength Is
The auto industry has tried to obscure the engineering principles
which would have emphasized maintaining survival space by arguing in
court and to NHTSA that occupants ``dive'' into the roof. This ignores
the obvious fact that if the seat structures and safety belts held
occupants in place during a roll, and if the roof was strong enough to
withstand the weight of the car, and the roofs were well padded, the
head and spine of occupants would be far safer. In addition, safety
engineer and attorney Don Slavik has shown through accident
investigations that injuries among occupants directly correlates with
the location of roof intrusion in the vehicle. Where there is roof
crush, occupants are injured, and where someone remains uninjured,
there is little or no roof crush.
GM Blames Belt Use Rates for Rollover Ejection Deaths and Ignores
Safety Belt Design Flaws
General Motors, in its press release following Dr. Runge's recent
statement, faulted occupant ejections and the lack of safety belt use
for the high death rate in rollover crashes, claiming that, ``according
to NHTSA, of the 9,882 people killed in rollovers in the year 2000, 75
percent perished not because of the vehicle, but because they were
unbelted and ejected from the vehicle.'' \1\ Because decent crash
protection could save many lives, this argument sidesteps the
industry's responsibility to better protect the 28 percent of belted
occupants who perish needlessly in rollover crashes each year.
\1\ See press release by General Motors, by Jay Cooney, GM Safety
Communications. Jan. 15, 2003 (GM notes, ``72 percent of those killed
in fatal rollover crashes were not using safety belts.'').
Of course, better crash protection, including roofs, doors, door
latches and side windows and windshields, along with window curtain
airbags, could keep ejection portals from opening in a rollover crash,
helping to retain occupants inside the vehicle. GM also confuses
causation with correlation: NHTSA never has concluded that those
ejected were killed by the ejection. On the contrary, safety experts
have argued that as many as half of those ejected may have been first
injured or killed by roof intrusion within the vehicle prior to being
\2\ See Comments of Public Citizen Regarding 49 CFR Part 571,
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: Roof Crush Resistance at 9-11.
Moreover, SUV and passenger car belt-use rates are virtually
identical in fatal rollover crashes, proving nothing about the safety
of either type of vehicle. Sixty-eight percent of passenger car
occupants and 69 percent of SUV occupants killed in fatal rollover
crashes presumably were not using restraints. \3\ Far from proving that
SUVs are safe and fatalities are the occupants' fault, GM's assertion
shows the continuing failure to install safety design features that
could save many lives. According to a major 2002 NHTSA study, 78
percent of SUV and van occupants use safety belts, while 77 percent of
passenger car occupants did. \4\ Yet, in 2000, a whopping 61.7 percent
of SUV occupant fatalities were attributable to rollovers, while 36.5
percent of van fatalities and only 22.0 percent of passenger car
fatalities were. \5\ Obviously, seat belt use rates do little to
explain the high death rates in SUV rollovers.
\3\ National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Characteristics of
Rollover Crashes, April 2002, at 47.
\4\ National Center Statistics and Analysis, Safety Belt and Helmet
Use in 2002--Overall Results, September 2002, at 8.
\5\ National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Characteristics of
Rollover Crashes, April 2002, at 14.
This statistical discrepancy also raises a question about the
effectiveness of current safety belts in rollover crashes. Because most
are not constructed to stay tight, or ``pretension,'' during a rollover
crash, safety belts do not offer the same degree of protection to
occupants in these type of crashes. Research has shown that passengers
may be ejected in a rollover despite the use of safety belts due to
``inertial unlatching'' during the roll. \6\ Despite the possibility of
design flaws in most belts, crash investigators often assume that
someone ejected in a rollover crash was unbelted, leading to
underreporting in the extent to which inertial-unlatching may occur.
\6\ See Blick, et al, ``Theoretical and Experimental Analysis of
Inertial Release of Seat Belt Buckles,'' AAAM (1996).
Even occupants who are able to remain belted may slide free from
their safety belt during a rollover and be injured or killed. In one
1986 NHTSA simulation of a four-roll event at 60 miles per hour using
typical safety belt designs, in seven out of seven tests, the test
``occupant'' slid out of the shoulder belt, permitting extreme torso
flailing to occur. \7\ Other research has confirmed that current safety
belt design allows far too much movement by occupants to adequately
protect them in rollover crashes. \8\ Congress should ask NHTSA to
conduct further tests to measure the performance of safety belts in
rollover crashes, and should require safety belts that will keep
occupants in place during a rollover crash.
\7\ See NHTSA Research Paper, SAE 861876 (1986).
\8\ Rains, Elias, Mowrey; ``Evaluation of Restraints Effectiveness
in Simulated Rollover Conditions,'' 98-S8-W-34 (1998).
Of course, GM's decision to blame belt use rates by consumers is
fare easier--and far less effective--than fixing SUVs through
engineering changes available today. The real solution is to impose a
meaningful roof crush standard, require rollover crash protection
measures in all passenger vehicles, and establish a minimum standard
for rollover propensity. Given the survivability of these crashes and
the availability of lifesaving and limb-saving technology, NHTSA should
have a goal of bringing the fatalities from rollover and roof crush to
virtually zero, with the ultimate aim of achieving the same level of
protection from injury and death for the public as is now enjoyed by
professional race car drivers.
Ross and Wenzel Top 20 Most Risky Vehicles for Their Drivers *
Type of Vehicle Make and Model Driver
Pickup Truck Chevrolet S-10 161
Subcompact Car Dodge Neon 161
Subcompact Car Pontiac Sunfire 158
Subcompact Car Chevrolet Cavalier 146
SUV Jeep Wrangler 136
SUV Chevrolet Blazer 122
Pickup Truck Ford Ranger 118
Compact Car Pontiac Grand Am 118
Pickup Truck Toyota Tacoma 111
Pickup Truck Ford F-Series 110
Pickup Truck Chevrolet C/K series 104
Midsize Car Dodge Stratus 103
Pickup Truck GMC C/K- series 101
Large Car Lincoln Town Car 100
Subcompact Car Saturn SC/SL/SW 98
Large Car Buick LeSabre 96
Subcompact Car Nissan Sentra 95
SUV Toyota 4Runner 94
SUV Ford Explorer 88
Pickup Truck Dodge Ram 88
* Risk Ranking includes fatality risk for drivers of these vehicles per
100,000 vehicles sold in 1997-2001
Source: Mark Ross and Tom Wenzel Fatality Risk Chart printed in the Los
Angeles Times Article: ``Study Questions SUV Safety'' Feb. 18, 2003.
Ross and Wenzel Top 20 Most Risky Vehicles for Other Drivers on the Road
Type of Vehicle Make and Model Other
Pickup Truck Dodge Ram 137
Pickup Truck Ford F-Series 128
Pickup Truck Dodge Dakota 110
Pickup Truck Chevrolet C/K series 99
Pickup Truck GMC C/K- series 92
Pickup Truck Ford Ranger 78
SUV Chevrolet Tahoe 74
Minivan Chevrolet Astro Van 61
SUV Ford Explorer 60
SUV Chevrolet Suburban 59
Pickup Truck Toyota Tacoma 59
SUV Jeep Wrangler 58
SUV Ford Expedition 57
Pickup Truck Chevrolet S-10 55
SUV Chevrolet Blazer 50
Compact Car Nissan Altima 49
Large Car Lincoln Town Car 47
Large Car Dodge Intrepid 45
SUV Jeep Grand Cherokee 44
Subcompact Car Pontiac Sunfire 44
* Risk ranking includes the fatality risk to other drivers per million
vehicles sold 1997-2001
Source: Mark Ross and Tom Wenzel Fatality Risk Chart printed in the Los
Angeles Times Article: ``Study Questions SUV Safety'' Feb. 18, 2003.
Appendix F--Auto Manufacturers Spend Billions Marketing SUVs to
SUV advertising rose nearly nine-fold from $172.5 million in
1990 to $1.5 billion in 2000. \1\
\1\ See Bradsher, Keith, High and Mighty: SUVs- The World's Most
Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 2002, at 112.
Automakers and their dealers spent $9 billion advertising
the SUV from 1990 through September 30, 2001. \2\
\2\ Id. at 112.
General Motors was the #1 advertiser in the U.S. in 2000 and
2001 spending $3,945,000,000 in 2000 and $3,374,000,000 in
\3\ See AdvertisingAge's 100 Leading National Advertisers: 47th
Annual Report, June 24, 2002, at 3.
The ``Big Three,'' ranked #1 for General Motors
($3,374,000,000), #3 for Ford ($2,408,000,000), #6 for Daimler/
Chrysler ($1,985,000,000), and spent a combined $7,767,000,000
in 2001. \4\
\4\ Id. at 3.
The automotive industry overall spent $14,490,700,000 in
2001 in total ad spending. \5\
\5\ See AdvertisingAge's Domestic Spending by Category: Ranked by
measured U.S. expenditures in 2001 at http://www.adage.com/
page.cms?pageId=916, visited February 19, 2003.
Top Ten Advertisers of 2001 and Revenue per Advertising Dollar
Advertiser Spending Advertising Dollar
General Motors $3,374,000,000 $39.20
Proctor & Gamble Co. $2,541,000,000 $8.00
Ford Motor Co. $2,408,000,000 $44.97
PepsiCo $2,210,000,000 $8.20
Pfizer $2,189,000,000 $9.10
DaimlerChrysler $1,985,000,000 $36.60
AOL Time Warner $1,885,000,000 $17.30
Phillip Morris $1,816,000,000 $28.70
Walt Disney Co. $1,757,000,000 $11.90
Johnson & Johnson $1,618,000,000 $12.50
\6\ See AdvertisingAge's Revenue Per Advertising Dollar Expenditure at
http://www.adage.com/page.cms?pageId=915, visited February 19, 2003.
Appendix G--SUVs are Regulatory Renegades
SUVs are loophole vehicles across-the-board, but SUVs over 6,000
lbs. collect special exemptions like candy. These wasteful, dangerous
vehicles are not held to some of the same crash safety standards as
cars and are given outrageously exorbitant tax breaks--creating
incentives to churn out more of them while public safety suffers.
Special favors for Large SUVs:
Side Impact Crash Protection
Large SUVs are held to a less protective side impact
standard than applies to cars.
Roof Strength Protection
Large SUVs need not meet any roof strength standard.
When businesses purchase an SUV (or other light truck) over
6,000 lbs., they can immediately deduct $25,000 off of the
The Bush stimulus package of 2002 granted another 30 percent
deduction off of the balance of a vehicle's sticker price.
The administration's latest stimulus package seeks to raise
the initial deduction up to 75,000 dollars. \1\ It would pay in
full for every vehicle over 6,000 lbs. except the Hummer.
\1\ McCarthy, Sheryl, ``Eliminate SUV Tax Giveaway Which Helps Rich
and Busts Budget,'' The Detroit News, Feb. 14, 2003.
These special interest tax breaks do not preclude businesses
from taking the standard 20 percent deduction annually over
Above 8,500 lbs., SUVs are also exempt from:
Fuel Economy Standards
Vehicles need not comply with the extremely low federal fuel
economy standards for light trucks, nor must they report
production numbers, miles-per-gallon, or total sales to
Currently all vehicles over 8,500 lbs are treated as medium
duty passenger vehicles, which have significantly more lax
emission requirements. Under EPA's Tier 2 rules, medium duty
passenger vehicles (between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds) will be
phased into the passenger vehicle emission requirements over
time. Light trucks, as classified by EPA, also are permitted to
emit more pollutants than cars, an exemption also currently
scheduled for phase out.
Child Restraint Anchorage Systems
Requirements do not apply to vehicles greater than 8,500
lbs., meaning they need not install anchorage systems to
accommodate child restraints.
Below is a table of the SUVs eligible for luxury loophole tax
Sample List of Vehicles that Would Qualify for the SUV Tax Break *
Vehicle Model Weight Sticker (without Bush
(lbs.) Price tax break)
Cadillac Escalade ESV 7200 $56,160 $38,710
Chevrolet Suburban 2500 8600 $41,280 $32,160
Chevrolet Tahoe 6800 $38,530 $30,955
Dodge Durango 6400 $33,280 $28,645
Ford Excursion 8900 $43,650 $33,205
Ford Expedition 6650 $37,185 $30,360
GMC Yukon XL Denali 7200 $44,695 $33,665
Hummer H1 10300 $111,845 $63,210
Hummer H2 8600 $50,590 $36,260
Land Rover Discovery 6064 $37,995 $30,720
Land Rover Range Rover 6724 $71,865 $45,620
Lincoln Navigator 4WD 7450 $51,960 $36,860
Mercedes M-Class 6283 $51,970 $36,865
Toyota Land Cruiser 6860 $53,915 $37,725
Toyota Sequoia 4WD 6600 $38,080 $30,755
* Roder, Aileen, Moinster, Lucas, Taxpayers for Common Sense, http://
www.taxpayer.net/TCS/whitepapers/SUVtaxbreak.htm#12, (visited on
February 20, 2003)
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Ms. Claybrook.
Mr. Pittle, welcome.
STATEMENT OF R. DAVID PITTLE, Ph.D., SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT,
TECHNICAL POLICY, CONSUMERS UNION
Mr. Pittle. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, my name is David
Pittle. I am senior vice president for Technical Policy at
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
With me today are David Champion, director of Consumers Union's
327-acre auto test facility in rural Connecticut, and Sally
Greenberg, CU's Product Safety Council here in Washington.
Each year, CU conducts comprehensive tests of some 40 to 50
vehicles which we buy anonymously with cash at retail. We have
learned, from more than 65 years of conducting unbiased
laboratory and consumer-use tests, that while competing
products may look alike, they do not always act alike. We see
this every day on our test track, in terms of the range of
performance and safety of new cars and trucks. Unquestionably,
auto safety is a matter of high national importance affecting,
as it does, virtually everyone in the country, both in their
personal and work lives.
The last time that I presented testimony to a Senate
committee, it was during the Ford/Firestone safety crisis in
September of 2000. While investigating the thousands of
Bridgestone tire failures and Ford Explorer rollovers, the
Congress pressed hard to understand how could this situation
happen and, further, what could be done to prevent future
deaths and injuries from tire failures and SUV rollovers.
Ultimately, the Congress passed unanimously a powerful law, the
TREAD Act of 2000, that directed NHTSA to protect American
consumers by developing new tests for tires, child safety
seats, and dynamic tests to assess a vehicle's rollover
stability. But the truth is, it never should have taken a
tragedy of that proportion to bring about such sorely needed
and long awaited changes.
I said it to you then, and I must say it now. The American
car-buying public must be able to rely on NHTSA to proactively
set adequate safety standards and to ensure that automotive
products offered for sale meet those standards. As charged by
Congress, NHTSA has the unique authority and the clear mandate
to protect the public from unreasonable automotive hazards,
hazards often not seen, not measured, and not understood by the
average consumer. In short, NHTSA's the only entity empowered
by Federal law that can block unsafe vehicles from the
marketplace. As a safety agency, its only client is the
consumer. And ultimately, we, as consumers, rely on you, the
Congress, first, to ensure that NHTSA has the resources and
authority it needs to protect the public; second, to use your
oversight powers to ensure that the agency is properly
fulfilling that mandate; and, third, to insulate the agency and
allow it to set safety regulations without being derailed
simply because industry raises objections.
I want to recall for you the chilling but all too true
words of former NHTSA administrator, Ricardo Martinez. In a
recent interview reported in the Wall Street Journal, he said,
``Any chief of the Safety Agency is always outgunned,
outmanned, and outspent by the industry.'' He went on to say to
Dr. Runge, ``You have got the regulations and the bully pulpit,
and you have got to use both.''
The Ford/Firestone safety crisis serves as a vivid reminder
that consumers depend on the government to be actively passing
laws to ensure their safety, not passively collecting data on
injuries and deaths.
During those hearings in 2000, it became all too clear that
NHTSA was an underfunded agency that had lost its way, and
ultimately consumers paid the price.
We sit here today, barely two years later, confronting
another safety problem whose dimensions we are only beginning
to stretch our arms around. It will take our best thinking, our
best intentions, and a clear sense of past successes to bring
these hazards under control. We applaud Dr. Runge for at least
his published outspoken views on behalf of consumer safety. And
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your bringing this hearing together
We agree with Dr. Runge's earlier statements that the
pattern of injuries and deaths associated with many SUVs on the
road is unreasonable and should be addressed promptly. We also
believe that the solutions are economically and technologically
feasible. But implementing those solutions is going to take
strong leadership, leadership from this Committee and strong
leadership at the highest levels of NHTSA.
Now, we have provided the Committee with a list of
corrective measures that we believe will reduce those risks,
particularly SUVs. And rather than going through them now, I
want to comment on one last point, and that is on the
industry's recent announcement that it would focus attention on
the hazards of vehicle incompatibility by placing almost
exclusive emphasis on adding protective devices to passenger
vehicles. Redesigning SUVs and pickup trucks to be less
aggressive would be put off until some undefined later date.
This is troubling, to put it mildly. Such an approach, in
essence, tells occupants of mid-sized and small vehicles that
they must worry about their own safety and virtually all but
removes responsibility from manufacturers of SUVs and pickup
trucks to start designing these vehicles to be more forgiving.
It is like saying to the kids who complain about being battered
by the playground bully to wear more protective padding to
Mr. Pittle. Equipping passenger cars with head protection
is entirely appropriate, but we need to socialize the highway
bully. Waiting to address basic design until sometime in the
future is fundamentally wrong, and this needs attention now.
So, finally, we question the wisdom that NHTSA is relying
on industry to self-regulate by setting its own voluntary
standards. While we recognize many of the past benefits of
voluntary standards, in this case we believe it would be
misguided and inappropriate, and, worse, not likely to bring
about the level of change needed to reduce the hazards in a
timely manner. Solving broad and serious safety problems is a
fundamental reason why NHTSA exists in the first place. This is
one of their core responsibilities. We must be very cautious
before we agree to let this key safety agency step aside and
defer responsibility to the industry. There is no substitute
for this safety agency using its authority judiciously to
correct safety problem in a timely manner in a way that is
accountable to Congress, the courts, and to consumers.
So, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Runge and NHTSA's staff need from you
a strong, unambiguous message about its consumer-focus mission
and your intention to vigorously oversee their progress. You
did exactly that in the Ford/Firestone case, and it was a
success. Lives will be saved as a result. Here, in the light of
the serious and rapidly growing risks posed by many SUVs and
pickups, we call on you again. We urge this Committee to reject
NHTSA's relying solely on voluntary actions by the industry. We
urge you, instead, to direct NHTSA to step up to the plate and
take the lead in correcting these problems. I lost count how
many times Dr. Runge said, ``We will be watching to see what
the industry does.''
Mr. Chairman, Congress set up NHTSA as a watchdog agency to
protect the public. This watchdog must do more than watch.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Pittle follows:]
Prepared Statement of R. David Pittle, Ph.D., Senior Vice-President,
Technical Policy, Consumers Union
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, good morning.
My name is David Pittle, and I am Senior Vice-President for Technical
Policy at Consumers Union \1\ (CU), the publisher of Consumer Reports.
We appreciate the opportunity to testify at this hearing to discuss the
safety risks of sport utility vehicles. With me are David Champion,
Director of Consumers Union's 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut,
and Sally Greenberg, CU's Senior Product Safety Counsel here in
\1\ Consumers Union is a nonprofit membership organization
chartered in 1936 under the laws of the state of New York to provide
consumers with information, education and counsel about good, services,
health and personal finance, and to initiate and cooperate with
individual and group efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of
life for consumers. Consumers Union's income is solely derived from the
sale of Consumer Reports, its other publications and from noncommercial
contributions, grants and fees. In addition to reports on Consumers
Union's own product testing, Consumer Reports with more than 4 million
paid circulation, regularly, carries articles on health, product
safety, marketplace economics and legislative, judicial and regulatory
actions which affect consumer welfare. Consumers Union's publications
carry no advertising and receive no commercial support
Each year, CU conducts comprehensive tests of some 40 to 50 new
vehicles, which we buy anonymously at retail. We provide consumers with
objective comparative ratings about performance, routine handling, fuel
efficiency, comfort, braking, emergency handling, and safety features
of these vehicles. We don't take outside advertising. Our only interest
is to provide consumers with unbiased test information. Each month, an
estimated 17 million consumers read and consider our published test
reports, including product ratings and buying advice, as they ponder
Since our inception in 1936, auto safety has been an overriding
concern for CU. For more than a decade now, surveys have shown that
auto safety has become a top priority for the car-buying public as
well. We have learned from more than six decades of conducting unbiased
laboratory and consumer use tests that, generally speaking, competing
products that look alike do not always act alike. This principle holds
true for motor vehicles.
Undisputedly, auto safety is a matter of high national importance,
affecting, as it does, virtually everyone in the country, both in their
personal and work lives. The American consumer relies on the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to set adequate safety
standards where necessary and to insure that automotive products
offered for sale meet those safety standards. If a product is found to
be unsafe, it must be recalled promptly and effectively. As charged by
Congress, NHTSA has the unique authority and the clear mandate to
protect the public from unreasonable automotive hazards--hazards often
not seen, not measured, and not understood by the average consumer. In
short, NHTSA is the only entity empowered by federal law that can block
unsafe vehicles from the marketplace. Ideally, as a safety agency, its
only client should be the consumer. As I will discuss, for too long it
has not acted assertively to fulfill this role.
With the Committee's help, this can change. Consumers need Congress
to insure that NHTSA has the authority and the resources it needs to
protect the public in a timely manner from unreasonable risks.
Congressional oversight must also insure that the agency is properly
fulfilling its public safety mandate. Congress needs to insulate the
agency from inappropriate industry pressures so that important safety
regulations are not derailed whenever the industry voices objections.
Auto safety is not a political issue. When someone is injured or
killed in a motor vehicle, the pain and grief felt by those consumers
and their families is the same regardless of which party is in power or
who occupies the White House. Whenever a pattern of unreasonable or
preventable injuries occurs, NHTSA must be able to act quickly and
decisively--based on the merits of its approach to reducing risks, not
on politics or industry pressure.
That is why we are here today. We believe that the pattern of
injuries and deaths associated with many of the SUVs on the road today
is unreasonable and should be greatly reduced. We also believe the
potential solutions are economically and technologically feasible.
Implementing those solutions will take strong leadership--leadership
from this Committee and strong leadership at the highest levels of
We applaud the bold and very refreshing approach taken by the new
NHTSA Administrator, Jeffrey Runge. He is using the leadership of his
office to express his informed views on the unreasonable risks
associated with certain sport utility vehicles. In so doing, Dr. Runge,
whose decades of work as an emergency room physician provided him ample
exposure to automobile related injuries and deaths, has enhanced the
fast-growing debate on SUVs by placing the public's safety at an
appropriately high level. The all-important question remains: How far
will Dr. Runge's approach go towards improving the safety of SUVs, and
will it occur in a timely manner? I will return to these questions in a
Consumer Union has long been concerned with the rollover propensity
of SUVs, and in recent years with SUV aggressivity. In the November
2002 issue of Consumer Reports, in which we rated a group of full-sized
SUVs, we offered our readers the following advice:
There are good reasons not to buy a large, full-sized sport
utility: They are gas gluttons, create excessive pollution,
handle ponderously, and as a class SUVs tend to roll over more
easily than passenger cars. Full-sized SUVs can be hard to park
and difficult to climb into and out of. And higher, heavier
SUVs inflict excessive damage to cars in collisions. For most
people, there are better choices.
Consumer Reports does not dictate what consumers should buy. We
recognize and believe that consumer choice is the cornerstone of our
consumer marketplace. Indeed, to meet consumer demand for in-depth
product information, we publish annually a special issue on light
trucks--which includes SUVs, minivans, pickups, and even station
wagons. Our advice, based on our own testing, on crash tests by NHTSA
and IIHS, on injury statistics, on market research, and other published
data makes clear in an objective manner the advantages and the
disadvantages of SUVs. The facts speak for themselves: Too many SUVs
get very poor gas mileage, produce greater air polluting emissions per
mile traveled, roll over more easily than other classes of vehicles,
have large blind spots, and inflict excessive damage on other vehicles
in a crash.
These are not newly revealed facts. They have been written about
and discussed for many years. A major problem has been that the
corrective force in the marketplace, NHTSA, has not acted assertively
to bring about the positive changes needed to protect the public. And
it's not that consumers have not wanted safer vehicles. For example, a
December 2002 J.D. Power survey found that safety continues to be one
of the top factors for consumers in the market for new cars. The J. D.
Power survey found that nine of the top 10 most desired features are
safety enhancing items, including features like vehicle stability
control, external surround sensing, adaptive headlight systems, tire
pressure monitoring gauges, anti-whiplash seats, and night vision
systems topped the list.
Federal Rollover Tests--too Long in Coming
CU's efforts since 1988 to get NHTSA to either develop a minimum
stability standard for all vehicles or develop a dynamic rollover test
for SUVs has been a long and frustrating struggle. Preventing rollovers
is critical because though rollovers account for a small percentage of
crashes overall, they are extremely dangerous when they occur, leading
to a disproportionately large number of fatalities. SUVs have the
highest rate of fatal crashes involving rollover.
According to NHTSA's 2000 report on vehicle fatalities, 9,882
people were killed as occupants in light vehicle rollover crashes,
representing 31 percent of the occupants killed that year. Of those,
8,146 were killed in single-vehicle rollover crashes. SUVs, because
they are tall vehicles and have a higher center of gravity than cars or
minivans, are more prone to roll over. Statistics bear this out: in
1998, for example, while 10 percent of cars and 10 percent of vans in
single vehicle crashes rolled over, 18 percent of pickups and 27
percent of SUVs rolled over in single vehicle crashes. Some 36 percent
of fatal SUV crashes involved rollovers, compared to only 15 percent in
cars. According to NHTSA's 2000 fatality data, passenger vehicle deaths
in rollover crashes declined slightly from 10,133 to 10,108 in 2000.
However, for occupants of sport utility vehicles, rollover deaths
increased 2.8 percent from 1,898 in 1999 to 1,951 in 2000.
CU's first experience with rollover began on our test track in
1988. While testing the emergency handling of a group of SUVs, the
Suzuki Samurai tipped up suddenly and severely. Based on our repeated
testing, including a second sample of the Samurai, we rated the Samurai
Not Acceptable. Since 1988, we have evaluated the emergency handling of
134 SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks and found several models that
tipped up severely in those tests and were rated Not Acceptable: the
1995-96 Isuzu Trooper, the 1996 Acura SLX, and the 2001 Mitsubishi
Montero Limited. \2\ Several other SUVs were rated Poor in emergency
handling: 1989 Ford Bronco II, the 1998 Chevrolet Blazer, the 2000
\2\ Isuzu and Suzuki raised legal challenges to CU's testing in the
federal courts. A California federal jury found for CU in April 2000
and dismissed Isuzu's claims. As the prevailing party, CU was awarded
its costs. Suzuki's suit has not yet gone to trial.
Based on our testing in 1988, we petitioned NHTSA to develop a
minimum stability standard for all vehicles. NHTSA granted the petition
in 1988 but ceased work in 1994, stating that setting a standard for
vehicle stability would be too expensive because manufacturers would
have to redesign their vehicles. Based on our testing in 1996, we
petitioned NHTSA again, this time to develop a test for assessing the
emergency handling and stability of SUVs, to test new models using such
a test, and to make the results available to consumers. The agency
granted that petition in 1997, but it ended up proposing not a dynamic
test but rather the Static Stability Factor in 2000 as the measure for
a vehicle's rollover resistance, much to our surprise and our
Which brings us to the critical role played by Congress. In
response to the notorious Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall
controversy, the TREAD act (Transportation Recall Enforcement,
Accountability, and Documentation Act), spearheaded by this Commerce
Committee, passed Congress unanimously in 2000. NHTSA was directed to
develop a dynamic test for rollover, and based on what NHTSA proposed
last November, we are optimistic that they have been put on the right
track. We believe that consumers will be able to see rollover
resistance ratings based on dynamic tests of SUVs and other vehicles
sometime this year. This rating system at long last will enable
consumers to make rational choices for the safety of their families.
There is no question that Congress played the decisive role in bringing
Vehicle Size Matters
Largely fueled by extravagant industry advertising, consumers have
come to believe they are safer in SUVs. Indeed, the automakers have
continued to defend SUVs publicly by stating that a larger, heavier
vehicle is safer for its occupants than the occupants of a smaller,
lighter vehicle in a crash. They promote this message, despite the
negative impact such larger vehicles may have on the occupants of
smaller vehicles in a crash--and despite data indicating that motorists
are not necessarily safer in SUVs than in cars. Researchers Marc Ross
and Thomas Wenzel, at the request of the Los Angeles Times, just this
month updated a survey they completed last March, finding that most
mid-size and large cars are as good or better than the average SUV at
protecting their own drivers, and much more protective of drivers than
the average pickup. Further, Ross and Wenzel found that SUVs have a
higher combined risk than mid-size and large cars because of the
inordinate damage they can inflict on other motorists in crashes.
Further, the impact of the automotive size race is already seen in
highway death tolls, which have seen modest declines over the past 20
years but seem to be stuck at about 42,000 per year for the past
decade, despite the ubiquity of safety features like air bags, seat
belts, improved vehicle design in some cases, and aggressive anti-drunk
driving efforts in the states. One cannot help but wonder how much
lower the death rate would be if not for the greater aggressivity of
SUVs and pickup trucks in multi-vehicle crashes.
We also fear that the worst is yet to come. Older, larger, more
aggressive SUVs will soon be available on the second- and third-hand
market in significant numbers, where younger drivers--less experienced
drivers with inherently higher accident rates--will be able to afford
them. One of the biggest SUVs on the road--the Ford Expedition--
weighing 5300 pounds, sold new in 1997 for $27-33,000. Today, the same
5300 pound vehicle can be bought for a mere $9,000.
Researchers Tom Hollowell and Clark Gabler, in a report prepared
for NHTSA and delivered at a conference of the Society of Automotive
Engineers in 1997, found that SUVs were nearly three times as likely as
cars to kill other drivers in a crash; they also found that when a car
crashes into the side of another car, the driver of the struck car is
6.6 times as likely to die as the driver of the striking car. But when
an SUV hits a car in the side, the driver of the struck car is 30 times
as likely to die.
CU believes that when it comes to affecting other people's health
and safety, none of us is completely free of responsibility. Just as we
have decided as a society not to permit smoking in most public
buildings, workplaces, and restaurants because of the ill effects on
the health of our neighbors, we shouldn't encourage consumers to drive
vehicles that present unreasonable dangers to others.
Further, while every vehicle has blind spots, the problem is
particularly severe behind pickup trucks and SUVs and poses increasing
danger, especially to small children. While NHTSA should, but does not,
keep these data on children injured or killed in and around cars, a
nonprofit safety group in California, KIDS `N CARS, does. It found that
last year alone, a total of 58 small children were backed over and
killed, most often by their own parent in their own driveway because
they simply couldn't be seen.
CU's Auto Test Division recently measured the blind spots in trucks
and SUVs using cones the size of an average two year old to test the
extent of this problem. We found a 30-foot blind spot in back of pickup
trucks, 14 feet in back of SUVs, compared to only 10 feet for cars. To
address this growing safety problem, as the fleet becomes more
dominated by SUVs and pickup trucks, we recommend that Congress direct
NHTSA to test backover warning devices and require them within the next
two years to be standard equipment in SUVs and pickup trucks. We think
these devices will not only save lives but also untold millions of
dollars in bumper and other property damage.
Vehicle Incompatibility and its Implication for Safety
What special safety risks do SUVs pose to cars? As Hollowell and
Gabler's research notes, the large differential in mass, stiffness, and
geometry between cars and SUVs and pickup trucks results in greater
injury to car occupants when they are hit by an SUV or pickup truck.
Simply put, heavier, stiffer vehicles with higher bumpers are a lethal
menace to any passenger car they collide with.
According to a 1999 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety (IIHS), for every million registered cars weighing 3,500 to
3,999, 45 deaths occur in the other cars they collide with. For every
million sport utility vehicles in the same weight class, 76 deaths
occur in the cars they collide with. The corresponding rate for pickups
Front-to-side collisions between cars and sport utility vehicles or
pickup trucks are among the most deadly because the sides of cars don't
offer nearly enough protection against the high battering ram effect of
an SUV or pickup truck. Moreover, car doors don't provide the same
level of protection that is built into the crumple zone in the car's
To Properly Protect Public Safety, NHTSA Must Lead
When Dr. Runge began speaking out on his safety concerns about
SUVs, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and IIHS responded
by meeting to discuss what might be done to address the growing problem
of more SUVs on the road with their greater potential to injure or kill
passengers in cars. After two days of meetings, the two groups wrote to
Dr. Runge, saying that the greatest danger to vehicle occupants from
incompatibility is in front-to-side crashes, and recommending that the
highest priority, ``in the short term,'' should be placed on enhancing
``the protection for occupants inside the vehicles struck in the side.
Enhanced head protection is one obvious way to improve self protection
in side impacts.''
The letter, in our opinion, sidesteps the major safety issue by
stating that ``possible changes to front and side structures to improve
compatibility in front to side crashes also need to be explored.
However, any specific recommendations on how to implement structural
changes are likely to occur in the longer term.''
With 20 million SUVs on the roads today, we agree that greater
protection for vehicle occupants is critical. But we strongly disagree
with the notion that structural changes to SUVs should take a back seat
to adding protective safety features inside the struck vehicle, which
is the gist of the IIHS/Alliance letter. The problem all along has been
that the auto industry has paid too little attention to the safety of
other motorists while they designed heavier, high stance SUVs. The
approach proposed by IIHS and the Alliance places the lion's share of
responsibility on passenger vehicle occupants to equip themselves with
devices that protect from a side collision by a higher, heavier
vehicle. This program in essence tells occupants of mid-size and small
vehicles that they must worry about their own safety--and virtually all
but removes responsibility from manufacturers of SUVs and pickup trucks
to design more forgiving vehicles. We think this is one step forward--
but two steps backward.
CU believes that NHTSA should have asked Congress for funding to
develop compatibility crash tests between SUVs and cars in the mid-
1990s, when it became clear that SUVs and pickup trucks were becoming
tremendously popular with consumers. Unfortunately, no such test
program emerged. Indeed, researchers for NHTSA and other organizations
have been concerned about the growing impact of vehicle incompatibility
for many years--first between large and small cars and more recently,
between cars and SUVs. \3\ But it is not too late to start--consumers
buy more than three million new SUVs each year.
\3\ See Chillon, ``The Importance of Vehicle Aggressiveness in the
Case of a Transversal Impact,'' First International Conference on
Enhanced Safety of Vehicles, 1971. Wolfe and Carsten, ``Study of Car/
Truck Crashes in the United States,'' Highway Safety Research
Institute, University of Michigan, 1982, Monk and Willke, ``Striking
Vehicle Aggressiveness Factors for Side Impact,''National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration, 1986.
Congress should direct NHTSA to develop these crash tests, and
based on those results, NHTSA should begin to set standards to reduce
safety risks posed by vehicle incompatibility and SUV and pickup truck
aggressivity. The public's safety cannot rest upon industry self-
regulation. Such efforts have not worked well in the past, and it is
highly unlikely it will lead to significant changes now. These hazards
have been recognized for several years, and little has been done by the
industry. The levels of redesign and change needed to reduce the risks
are significant--and not likely to flow voluntarily in such an
environment. Rather, the situation needs an agency with authority and
an unyielding determination to correct the problem--and a strong sense
from Congress that anything less is not acceptable.
Based on NHTSA's track record over the last two decades, we have
come to believe that the agency has too often had a blurred sense of
mission. It was set up to protect the consumer, but it has been a
reluctant watchdog. The Bridgestone/Firestone recall revealed all too
clearly an agency that had long needed a strong sense of direction. In
that instance, Congress responded with an unambiguous message in the
TREAD Act. If not for Congress, there might never be dynamic tests for
rollover resistance; if not for Congress, there might not be an
upgraded federal tire standard; if not for Congress, there might not be
an aggressive early warning system for possible defects at NHTSA; if
not for Congress, there might not be an upgrading of child safety
We are encouraged by Dr. Runge's public commitment to safety, but
we believe he needs help to bring about needed changes. I want to
recall the chilling but all-too-true words of former NHTSA
Administrator Ricardo Martinez. In a recent interview reported in The
Wall Street Journal (February 7, 2003):
``Any chief of the safety agency is ``always outgunned,
outmanned and outspent by the industry,'' says Ricardo
Martinez, a NHTSA administrator during the Clinton
administration and friend of Dr. Runge. ``You've got the
regulations and the bully pulpit, and you've got to use both.''
In our opinion, Dr. Runge and the NHTSA staff need from you a
strong unambiguous message about its consumer-focused mission and
vigorous oversight on results. In the case of the serious risks posed
by SUVs and pickups, we urge this Committee to reject NHTSA's reliance
on a voluntary approach by the industry.
We recommend the following specific actions:
Recommendations for Reducing Rollover Risks:
NHTSA's plan to conduct rigorous dynamic testing of SUVs and
other vehicles and provide that information to consumers, as
discussed above, will have a strong impact on SUV design.
However, the agency will need additional resources to conduct
the testing needed to make the program useful.
CU's testing of collision avoidance or electronic stability
control (ESC) in SUVs indicates that they are very effective in
helping drivers to maintain vehicle control. These systems
should be standard equipment in all SUVs. Their widespread use
is virtually certain to result in fewer rollover-related deaths
Dynamic interior head air bag protection systems have also
been shown to reduce occupant ejection during a crash. These
systems should be standard on all SUVs to give occupants more
side protection in a rollover and also prevent unbelted
occupants from being ejected.
NHTSA is currently reviewing comments for an updated
standard on vehicle roof crush. This Committee should urge the
agency to speed it's work on that critical area; even belted
drivers in SUV rollovers have been killed or gravely injured as
a result of injuries to the spine from impact with poorly
NHTSA should continue its research on improving seat belt usage in
all vehicles especially in Pickups and SUVs.
NHTSA should, as part of its rollover information testing, assess
the handling capabilities of vehicles. In many cases today vehicle
manufacturers equip their SUVs with tires that limit the lateral grip
of the vehicle to reduce its instability. However, this compromises the
normal handling of the vehicle and can lead to other non-rollover
accidents. The handling test proposed by NHTSA would ensure that
vehicles are designed to be stable and not ``corrected'' by fitting a
specific low-lateral grip tires. When a consumer is at a tire dealer
buying new tires they are not aware of the potentially disastrous
consequences of buying the wrong type or size tire. Also the extensive
advertising of larger wheels and tires that are likely to improve the
lateral grip intensifies the possible consequences. Many SUVs have
specific tire types that are permitted, but few consumers are aware of.
Many SUVs specify All Terrain type tires only.
Recommendations for Reducing the Risks from Vehicle Incompatibility
SUVs should be redesigned to provide lower bumpers and less
rigid front frames so that they impart less of the crash energy
to the vehicle they hit, and do so at a height that is more
comparable to the crumple zones on sedans. Designers should aim
for less aggressively designed vehicles, such as the ``cross-
over'' vehicles emerging in today's market.
Congress should direct NHTSA to develop crash tests to
assess crash incompatibility, and NHTSA should begin to set
standards to reduce vehicle incompatibility and SUV and pickup
New passenger cars should be equipped with side and head air
bags as standard equipment to protect them in a crash with a
larger, higher and more aggressively designed vehicle.
Recommendations for Preventing Backover Injuries and Deaths
Require NHTSA to begin keeping track of data regarding
injury and death to children in and around motor vehicles.
Require NTHSA to test backup warning devices, set
performance standards for these devices, and make them standard
equipment on SUVs and pickup trucks in the next 2 years.
Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to your
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Pittle.
Mr. O'Neill, welcome.
STATEMENT OF BRIAN O'NEILL, PRESIDENT, INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR
Mr. O'Neill. Mr. Chairman, as SUV sales continue to climb,
there clearly are growing questions about SUV safety. The
interest in this hearing illustrates that. The kinds of
questions are, Do SUVs provide better protection than cars to
their occupants in crashes? Do SUVs have a rollover problem?
What about other people on the road? Are SUVs particularly
hazardous or aggressive to people in cars with which they
We think that we should be looking at these questions based
on some of the real-world crash experience of these vehicles.
And there are two kinds of occupant death rates that we can use
to address some of these questions. One, death rate summarizes
the number of occupants killed in cars, SUVs, or pickup trucks
per mission of that vehicle type registered. These death rates
can be used to compare the protection these vehicles provide to
their own occupants. This is sometimes referred to as ``self-
During 1990 and 1991, occupant deaths per million
registered vehicles one to four years old were highest in the
lightest vehicles, as you can see from this chart here.
Occupant death rates also varied by vehicle type. In each
vehicle weight category in 1990 and 1991, occupant death rates
were lower in cars than they were in SUVs or pickup trucks.
A decade later, in 2000 and 2001, the patterns have changed
somewhat. Most noticeable is as occupant death rates were
substantially lower across the board for cars, SUVs, and
pickups in every weight category. And in the same weight
categories, the death rates are now similar for cars and SUVs.
Although the death rates are similar for recent-model cars
and SUVs, the deaths in these vehicles are not occurring in the
same kinds of crashes. We have heard already today about
rollovers. Single-vehicle rollover crashes consistently account
for about 20 percent of car occupant deaths in contrast to
corresponding percentages of SUV occupant deaths that occurred
in single-vehicle rollovers, which was 52 percent during 1991
and 48 percent a decade later. So it is much more likely that
you will die in a rollover crash in an SUV.
But when we look at occupant deaths, it is important to
consider not only what happens to occupants inside the
particular vehicles, or self-protection, but also what happens
to occupants inside other passenger vehicles with which they
collide--these other vehicles are sometimes referred to as
``crash partners''--and reducing the risks produced by
particular vehicle types for the occupants of their crash
partners' vehicles, sometimes is referred to as ``partner
So if we look at the number of occupant deaths in cars that
are in crashes with SUVs per million of the SUVs registered, we
can use this to look at the risks that SUVs pose to the
occupants of crash partner cars. Similar rates can be used to
assess crash partner risks from other cars and pickup trucks.
In two vehicle crashes involving SUVs, pickups, or cars in
which deaths occur in crash partner cars, the partner death
rates varied according to the type and weight of the other
vehicle. It should be noted when we look at these comparisons
that partner death rates are significantly lower than occupant
death rates, because improved crashworthiness or improved self-
protection can be effective in all kinds of crashes, while
crash partner risks are relevant only in crashes involving two
passenger vehicles. And right now, fewer than 35 percent of all
car occupant deaths occur in crashes with other passenger
vehicles, including other cars.
But when we do look at the partner crash fatality rates,
you can see that the heavier the weights of the SUVs, pickups,
or cars involved in the crashes in which deaths occur in
partner cars, the higher the partner-car death rates. The death
rate in partner cars is lower when the other vehicle in a
collision is another car than when it is an SUV or a pickup
truck. This overall pattern is apparent during both 1990 and
1991, and more recently in 2000 and 2001. So the data do show
that SUVs and pickups do inflict more harm to car occupants in
crashes than cars in crashes with other cars.
It is interesting to note, however, that between 1990 and
1991, and 2000 and 2001, the death rates in partner cars went
down regardless of whether the other vehicle in the collision
were other cars, SUVs, or pickups. But obviously, for overall
safety, it is important to maintain an appropriate balance
between self-protection and the risks for occupants of crash
So what is it about SUVs and pickups, beyond their weight,
that increases the risk for the occupants for their crash
partner cars? A clue is apparent in crash partner death rates
by direction of impact. In crashes involving two cars, crash
partner deaths are split about evenly between front-to-front
and front-to-side impacts, but the split is very different when
the other vehicle is an SUV. In these crashes, the occupant
deaths in crash partner cars are about 50 percent more likely
to occur in side than in frontal impacts.
These self and partner death rates highlight differences
between car and SUV safety. Today, the overall fatality rates
for occupants of SUVs and cars are about the same, but their
fatal crash patterns are different. SUV occupants are about
twice as likely as car occupants to be in fatal single-vehicle
When it comes to deaths in crash partner cars, the partner
death rates are when the other vehicle is an SUV, versus
another car. And the most important differences are the
elevated risks to the occupants of cars struck in the side by
SUVs, compared with being struck in the side by other cars.
How can these findings guide us to appropriate
countermeasures to improve the protection of all occupants of
all passenger vehicles? First, the results presented here
demonstrate that progress has been made in self-protection for
both cars and SUVs. Occupant death rates today are much lower
than they were ten years ago, and there are many factors that
contributed to these improvements.
But clearly the issue of SUV rollover crashes still needs
to be addressed, and we have some newer designs that have lower
centers of gravity, wider track widths, so they should be more
stable than older designs. Dynamic rollover rating systems
being developed by NHTSA should help prospective SUV buyers
choose models with a lower risk of rolling over. Electronic
stability systems now available on some SUVs and likely to
become more prevalent should reduce the likelihood that SUV
drivers will lose control and slide sideways, which often
precedes rolling over.
What more can be done to improve the safety of occupants in
cars in collisions with SUVs? A high priority should be to
address the problem of SUVs striking the sides of cars. The
risks are much greater to occupants of cars that are struck in
the side by SUVs compared with when you are struck in the side
by another car.
The higher ride heights of SUVs mean that their front ends
strike cars' relatively weak doors in side impacts. Plus, the
higher hood heights on SUVs put car occupants' heads at greater
The first step, and a very important first step, is to
improve the side protection offered in all vehicles, because
this will work not only in crashes involving cars and SUVs, but
in crashes involving two cars.
To promote improvements in this area, the Institute
recently began a crashworthiness evaluation program that will
provide consumer information on the relative safety of new
vehicles in side impacts. For the first time in any crash test
program conducted for regulatory or consumer information
purposes, the impact heights to sides of the vehicles in these
tests simulates the front end of an SUV.
Finally, what can be done to the front ends of vehicles to
make them more compatible in two-vehicle crashes? Obviously,
one necessary first step is to make sure somehow that the load-
bearing structures on the fronts of vehicles, cars and SUVs,
are more likely to line up than they do today, because if they
do not line up, we have over-ride, under-ride. So a fundamental
need is ensure that we have interacting structures in front-to-
In front-to-side crashes, the challenge is much greater,
because the stiff parts of cars, the door-sill areas, are
actually lower than the bumper heights of cars, let alone the
bumper heights of SUVs. But, clearly, these issues all need to
be addressed in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. O'Neill follows:]
Prepared Statement of Brian O'Neill, President, Insurance Institute for
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a nonprofit research
and communications organization that identifies ways to reduce motor
vehicle crash deaths, injuries, and property damage. I am the
Institute's president, and I am here to discuss some aspects of the
safety of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) compared with cars.
The increasing sale of SUVs in recent years is well known. They
accounted for about 6 percent of all passenger vehicles 1 to 4 years
old registered in 1990-91. A decade later the corresponding percentage
had tripled to 18. During 2000-01, SUVs and pickups (all model years)
accounted for 29 percent of total passenger vehicle registrations.
The increasing number of SUVs on the road has contributed to a
growing debate about the safety of these vehicles. Many purchasers say
they buy SUVs in part because they believe there is a safety advantage.
But do SUVs provide better protection than cars to their occupants in
crashes? Do SUVs have a rollover problem? What about other people on
the road? Are SUVs particularly hazardous, or ``aggressive,'' to people
in the cars with which they collide?
Concepts of self protection and partner protection
Two kinds of occupant death rates can be used to address these
questions and provide insights about the relative safety of cars and
SUVs. One kind summarizes the numbers of occupants killed in particular
types of vehicles (cars, SUVs, or pickup trucks), per million of that
vehicle type registered. These death rates can be used to compare
crashworthiness among the different vehicle types--that is, to compare
the protection they provide to their own occupants. This is sometimes
referred to as self protection.
For these comparisons of crashworthiness to be meaningful, it is
necessary to isolate the effects of vehicle weight because SUVs and
pickups are, on average, heavier than cars, and vehicle weight is an
important determinant of occupant death rates. Everything else being
equal, lighter vehicles will have higher occupant death rates.
Small and lightweight vehicles have high death rates for their own
occupants in all kinds of crashes, single as well as multiple vehicle.
However, in crashes between two vehicles the heavier ones can increase
the deceleration forces--and the injury risks--for occupants of the
lighter ones. So an issue is the extent to which occupants of vehicles
such as very large and heavy SUVs have lower risks at the expense of
increased risks for occupants traveling in other vehicles. To assess
this concern, it is important to consider not only what happens to
occupants inside particular vehicle types (self protection) but also
what happens to occupants inside other passenger vehicles with which
they collide. These other vehicles sometimes are referred to as ``crash
partners,'' and reducing the risks produced by particular vehicle types
for the occupants of their crash partner vehicles sometimes is referred
to as partner protection.
Crash partner risks can be assessed by comparing the numbers of
occupant deaths in cars (all model years) in crashes with SUVs,
pickups, or other cars (specific model years; per million of the SUVs,
pickups, or cars registered). These death rates indicate the risks for
occupants of crash partner cars resulting from collisions with
different vehicle types. As with crashworthiness (or self protection)
death rates, comparisons of crash partner death rates need to isolate
the effects of vehicle weight. This allows comparisons of the risks to
occupants of partner cars when the other vehicle is, for example, a
heavy car versus a heavy SUV.
The combination of self and crash partner death rates considers
both deaths inside vehicles in all crashes and deaths in partner
vehicles in two-vehicle collisions. This combination provides a more
complete assessment of occupant safety.
Self protection: occupant deaths in cars, SUVs, and pickups
Small and lightweight vehicles afford much less protection to their
occupants in crashes than larger and heavier vehicles. This is true
regardless of vehicle type (car, SUV, or pickup). During 1990-91,
occupant deaths per million registered vehicles 1 to 4 years old were
highest in the lightest vehicles. Occupant death rates also varied by
vehicle type. In each vehicle weight category, occupant death rates in
vehicles 1 to 4 years old during calendar years 1990-91 were lower in
cars than in SUVs or pickups. A decade later (2000-01) the patterns had
changed somewhat. Most noticeable is that occupant death rates were
substantially lower across the board for cars, SUVs, and pickups in
every weight category. Consider, for example, vehicles weighing 3,000
to 3,499 pounds. During 1990-91 the self-protection death rate for cars
was 152 per million registered cars. The corresponding rate for SUVs
was 187 deaths per million, and for pickups it was 227 deaths per
million. By 2000-01 these rates had dropped to 127 (cars), 129 (SUVs),
and 188 (pickups).
There still were relationships between occupant death rates and
vehicle weights during 2000-01, but these relationships were less
pronounced than they had been a decade earlier. The biggest changes
occurred in the death rates for the lightest cars (those weighing less
than 2,500 pounds). This reflects in part the fact that cars in this
weight category got heavier. Fifty-four percent of 1987-89 car models
in the lightest group weighed less than 2,250 pounds. A decade later,
fewer than 9 percent were as light.
Comparisons of death rates by vehicle type reveal other changes
from 1990-91 to 2000-01. During the more recent years, cars still had
lower death rates than pickups. But in the same weight categories, the
death rates were similar for cars and SUVs 1 to 4 years old.
Although death rates are similar for recent model cars and SUVs,
deaths in these vehicles are not occurring in the same kinds of
crashes. Single-vehicle rollover crashes consistently account for about
20 percent of car occupant deaths. In contrast, the corresponding
percentage of SUV occupant deaths that occurred in single-vehicle
rollovers was 52 during 1990-91 and 48 a decade later. Consider 1997-99
model vehicles in the 3,000-3,499 pound weight category. Twenty-two
percent of the occupant deaths in cars of this weight occurred in
single-vehicle rollovers. The corresponding percentage for SUVs was 41
and for pickups 37. Thus, the risk of a fatal single-vehicle rollover
crash is about twice as high for SUV occupants as it is for car
Crash partner risks: car occupant deaths in crashes with other
In two-vehicle crashes involving 1-to-4-year-old SUVs, pickups, or
cars in which deaths occur in crash partner cars (all model years), the
partner death rates vary according to the type and weight of the other
vehicle. It should be noted that partner death rates are significantly
lower than occupant death rates, which measure self protection, because
improved crashworthiness can be effective in all kinds of crashes while
crash partner risks are relevant only in crashes involving two
passenger vehicles. Fewer than 35 percent of all car occupant deaths
occur in crashes with other passenger vehicles, including other cars.
The heavier the weights of the SUVs, pickups, or cars involved in
crashes in which deaths occur in partner cars, the higher the partner
car death rates. In every vehicle weight group except one, the death
rate in partner cars (all model years) is lower when the other vehicle
in the collision is another car than when it is an SUV or a pickup
truck. This overall pattern is apparent for vehicles 1 to 4 years old
during both 1990-91 and 2000-01. However, during the intervening decade
the death rates in partner cars (all model years) went down, regardless
of whether the other vehicles in the collisions were other cars, SUVs,
or pickups. Another change during 2000-01, compared with 1990-91, was
that the differences in partner car death rates were smaller when the
other vehicles were cars versus SUVs.
Balance between self protection and crash partner risks
For overall safety, it is important to maintain an appropriate
balance between self protection and risks for occupants of crash
partner cars. A good example involves vehicle weight. Increasing weight
generally increases self protection, but this benefit diminishes as
vehicles get heavier and heavier. At the same time, the disbenefits for
occupants of crash partner cars do not appear to decrease as the other
vehicles get heavier and heavier. So at some point heavy vehicles cost
more lives in crash partner cars than they save.
Comparing self and partner death rates for each vehicle type shows
that more occupant deaths occur even in heavy SUVs and pickups than in
their crash partner cars. Consider the group of SUVs weighing 4,000 to
4,500 pounds. The occupant death rate in these vehicles 1 to 4 years
old during 2000-01 was 123, and their car crash partner death rate was
64. Thus there were twice as many deaths inside these relatively heavy
vehicles as in their crash partner cars. Compared with cars, both SUVs
and pickups have proportionately more car crash partner deaths than
occupant deaths, which indicates that SUVs (and pickups) pose greater
risks than cars for the occupants of their crash partner cars.
What is it about SUVs, beyond their weight, that increases the
risks for occupants of their car crash partners? A clue is apparent in
crash partner death rates by direction of impact. In crashes involving
two cars, crash partner deaths are split about evenly between front-to-
front and front-to-side impacts. But the split is very different when
the other vehicle is an SUV. In these crashes, the occupant deaths in
crash partner cars are about 50 percent more likely to occur in side
than in frontal impacts.
The self and partner death rates summarized above highlight
differences between car and SUV safety, and most of the differences
between these two vehicle types also apply to cars versus pickups.
It often has been claimed that overall occupant death rates are
lower in SUVs than in cars. The implication is that SUVs are safer. But
this results largely from the heavier weights of SUVs compared with
cars. For example, only 5 percent of all 1997-99 model cars weighed
more than 4,000 pounds, while the corresponding percentage for SUVs was
49. So it is disingenuous for defenders of SUVs to claim they are safer
than cars. Most of their advantage in terms of self protection is
simply due to mass. It also is undeniable that SUVs, as a group, have a
rollover problem. They are about twice as likely as cars to be in fatal
single-vehicle rollover crashes.
When it comes to occupant deaths in crash partner cars, the partner
death rates are higher when the other vehicle is an SUV versus another
car. The most important differences are the elevated risks to occupants
of cars struck in the side by SUVs, compared with being struck in the
side by other cars.
How can these findings guide us to appropriate countermeasures to
improve the protection of all occupants of all passenger vehicles?
First, the results presented here demonstrate that progress has been
made in self protection for both cars and SUVs. Occupant death rates in
1997-99 models during 2000-01 were significantly lower than
corresponding rates for 1987-89 models during 1990-91. Many factors
contributed to the improvements. Belt use rates in the United States
increased from 49 percent in 1990 to 71 percent in 2000. Only 3 percent
of 1987-89 vehicle models were equipped with airbags, compared with 100
percent of 1997-99 models. Average car weights increased about 350
pounds, while SUVs got 650 pounds heavier. Passenger vehicle
crashworthiness improved. Alcohol-impaired driving decreased. All of
these changes contributed to the significant improvements in self
protection, but there is more to be done.
The issue of SUV rollover crashes needs to be addressed. Some of
the newer SUV designs have lower centers of gravity and wider track
widths, so they should be more stable than the older designs. Dynamic
rollover rating systems being developed by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration should help prospective SUV buyers choose models
with a lower risk of rolling over. (The ratings might even--dare I say
it?--persuade some consumers that SUVs are not the wisest choice.)
Electronic stability systems now available on some SUVs, and likely to
become more prevalent, should reduce the likelihood that SUV drivers
will lose control and spin sideways, which often precedes rolling over.
Volvo has introduced something even newer. Rollover sensors on the new
Volvo SUV are designed to deploy inflatable curtains that cover side
windows when a rollover begins and remain inflated throughout the
rollover to help prevent full or partial occupant ejection.
Just as self protection is improving, crash partner death rates
also are coming down. But in this regard it is important to recognize
that the risks to car occupants in crashes with SUVs can be influenced
by changes to both cars and SUVs. The reductions in partner death rates
that occurred between 1990- 91 and 2000-01 demonstrate this. They
occurred as the numbers and weights of SUVs in the fleet were
increasing, and they were due mainly to the many improvements in self
protection for car occupants--not to design changes to SUVs to reduce
risks to occupants of their crash partners.
What more can be done to improve the safety of occupants of cars in
collisions with SUVs? A high priority should be to address the problem
of SUVs striking the sides of cars. The risks are much greater to
occupants of cars that are struck in the side by SUVs, compared with
being struck in the side by another car, even when the other car and
SUV weigh the same. This indicates that the problem relates to
differences in the configurations of the two vehicle types. The higher
ride heights of SUVs mean their front ends strike cars' relatively weak
doors in side impacts. Plus the higher hoods of SUVs put car occupants'
heads at great risk.
In the short term, the increased risks to car occupants struck in
the sides by SUVs should be addressed by improving self protection in
cars--specifically by adding inflatable head protection systems like
curtains or side airbags that protect both the head and thorax. These
should be added to new cars as standard equipment as soon as possible.
Improving side airbags that protect the thorax and improving vehicle
side structures around the B-pillar also would reduce the risks in side
impacts. To promote such improvements, the Institute recently began a
crashworthiness evaluation program that will provide consumer
information on the relative safety of new vehicles in side impacts. For
the first time in any crash test program conducted for regulatory or
consumer information purposes, the impactor that hits the sides of
vehicles in these tests simulates the front end of an SUV.
Finally, what can be done to the front ends of vehicles to make
them more compatible in two-vehicle crashes? In many collisions between
cars and SUVs (and in some collisions between two cars) the structures
of the two vehicles designed to manage crash forces override or
underride, thus negating their crash energy management designs. So a
fundamental need is to ensure that such structures interact in crashes.
Ford's introduction of so-called blocker-beams on some of its SUVs may
signal the beginning of efforts to ensure such interaction. Plus some
of the newer car-based SUV designs, often called ``crossovers,'' offer
opportunities for improved structural interaction in crashes. Other
designs that might reduce structural mismatches in on-the-road crashes
are adjustable suspensions that automatically lower ride heights on the
highways but allow for upward adjustment and greater clearance off road
or, for example, in low-speed driving through deep snow.
These SUV design innovations are promising. However, changes also
will be needed to car designs to improve crash compatibility. The
occupant compartments of both cars and SUVs need to be strong so they
will remain intact in a wide range of serious crashes (frontal offset
crash testing is helping to accomplish this). And in the longer term,
test procedures and criteria need to be developed to ensure that
vehicle front-end stiffnesses match. Future designs should be driven by
good data from research and testing as well as real-world crash
experience. The evidence tells us that crash compatibility and partner
protection improvements are needed, but the highest priority in the
short and even medium term should continue to be self protection for
people in both cars and SUVs.
The Chairman. Thank you very much.
Mr. Lange, welcome.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT C. LANGE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VEHICLE
STRUCTURE AND SAFETY INTEGRATION, GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION
Mr. Lange. Thank you, Senator McCain.
Good morning. I am Bob Lange. I am the executive director
for Vehicle Structure and Safety Integration at General Motors
Corporation. I started work with GM in 1994, and each day since
I have been able to work with thousands of GM's engineers to
improve vehicle safety. We appreciate the opportunity to be
here today to discuss the safety of sport utility vehicles.
The issues this Committee has inquired about have recently
attracted increased public attention. For some time, however,
GM has been researching, designing, and adding features to our
SUVs to help make them safer. GM currently offers many SUVs in
various sizes and price ranges. They all provide utility,
performance, functionality, and other key attributes, including
occupant safety, that millions of our customers value and need.
They also help to generate the resources that enable us to
reinvest in our business and to continue research on advance
safety, hybrids, and fuel-cell-equipped vehicles.
SUVs are useful for many purposes. According to a 2002 Polk
survey, almost 80 percent of SUV owners frequently or sometimes
drive their SUVs during harsh weather. And our research shows
that, on a weekly basis, more SUVs than vans are used to
Sport utility vehicles are safe. The most recent government
data show that today's SUVs are at least as safe as passenger
cars overall, and safer than cars in the vast majority of
crashes. As Administrator Runge noted in a recent speech, there
is a 97 percent chance that if a crash occurs, it will involve
a front, rear, or side impact, and the safety record for SUVs
in these types of crashes is exceptional. In particular, the
occupant fatality rate for SUVs during 2001 was about half that
of cars in such crashes.
Government data do show proportionately more fatalities in
rollover crashes for light trucks, including SUVs, than for
passenger cars. And Senator, as you know, you have had several
comments about that already this morning.
GM has been working to reduce rollovers by designing its
products for good, dynamic stability and by helping drivers to
maintain control of their vehicles in extreme conditions with
the application of vehicle stability enhancement systems. GM
first introduced this technology in 1997. The system activates
when the computer senses a discrepancy between a driver's
intended path and the direction the vehicle is traveling. The
unit then selectively applies braking pressure to help steer
the vehicle in the appropriate direction. It is now on over 2
million GM vehicles that are on the road today.
Another emerging technology that could significantly reduce
the potential for rollover injury is the side curtain airbag.
We are developing new rollover sensors that will trigger
deployment of these bags in rollovers and other types of
crashes, thereby minimizing the potential for a head injury and
reducing the possibility of ejection.
GM has also been working on collision compatibility for
nearly a decade. Our primary focus to date has been on
structural alignment between cars and trucks and improved car
side structures, reference the testimony given by Mr. O'Neill
already. GM is now working with our competitors, the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety, and NHTSA to develop industry-
wide to SUV collision compatibility and rollover. We expect
within months these efforts will yield a common industry
standard for these SUV safety challenges.
The most effective and immediate way to improve light-truck
safety is to improve safety-belt use and discourage impaired
driving. In 2001, 77 percent of those who suffered a fatal
injury in an SUV rollover crash were not wearing a safety belt,
and 35 percent of these crashes involved an impaired driver.
These problems provide our greatest and most immediate
opportunities to improve the safety performance of SUVs in
GM is involved in public policy efforts to reduce drunk
driving and increase seatbelt use through our partnerships with
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Council's Airbag
and Seatbelt Safety Campaign, also supported by other vehicle
manufacturers and Nationwide Insurance and the National Safe
Kids Campaign in which we partner with the UAW, as well.
Congress can also play an important role in promoting motor
vehicle safety by encouraging more States to adopt primary
enforcement seatbelt-use laws. If seatbelt use were to reach
the 90-percent-plus levels that have already been achieved in
some States, we can save several thousand lives each and every
In the meantime, General Motors will continue to do its
part in developing and implementing technologies to improve
motor vehicle safety.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Lange follows:]
Prepared Statement of Robert C. Lange, Executive Director, Vehicle
Structure and Safety Integration, General Motors Corporation
I am Robert Lange, Executive Director for Vehicle Structure and
Safety Integration at General Motors Corporation. We appreciate the
opportunity to be here today to discuss the safety of our sport utility
vehicles (SUVs) and related matters.
The issues the Committee has inquired about have recently attracted
increased public attention. However, GM has been researching, designing
and adding features to our SUVs to address these issues and to help
make our SUVs even safer for some time. I will discuss those efforts
and our future direction with the Committee, and will talk about the
way we approach motor vehicle safety at GM.
Sport Utility Vehicles are important to us and our customers
Sport utility vehicles are very important for General Motors and
our customers. GM offers a range of SUVs. Among them are full-sized
utilities, such as the Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe and the GMC
Yukon; mid-sized utilities, such as the Pontiac Aztek, Buick
Rendezvous, GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Bravada and Chevrolet TrailBlazer;
and smaller sport utility vehicles, like the Saturn VUE and the
Chevrolet Tracker. These SUVs are among our most popular models. They
provide utility, performance, functionality and other key attributes--
including occupant safety--that millions of our customers value and
need. They also help to generate the resources that enable us to
reinvest in our business, and continue research for advanced safety and
alternative fuel development.
Importantly, SUV sales in the United States provide American jobs--
roughly 450,000 of them.
During the past decade and a half, sport utility vehicles and other
light duty trucks have become increasingly popular among American
vehicle purchasers. SUVs represented 24 percent of all new vehicle
sales in the U.S. last year. SUVs now represent nearly 12 percent of
all registered vehicles here in the U.S.
According to a 2002 R. L. Polk survey, almost 80 percent of SUV
owners ``frequently'' or ``sometimes'' drive their SUV during harsh
weather. In Detroit, we received reports of the recent winter storm
here in Washington. The coverage included footage of emergency workers
and even the President of the United States traveling in SUVs, while
most of the area was paralyzed. According to reports, TV and radio
pleas during the storm included appeals for those with SUVs and other
four-wheel drive vehicles to help transport hospital and other
emergency personnel to work.
These vehicles are useful for many other purposes as well. The 2002
R. L. Polk survey also shows that half of SUV owners use their vehicles
to haul tools, appliances or other bulky items. Twenty-four percent use
their SUV to carry bikes, kayaks, canoes or skis, or to tow boats,
snowmobiles or other items that require a trailer. Fifteen percent of
SUV owners have driven their vehicle off road. Significantly, our
research shows that on a weekly basis, more SUVs transport children
Americans choose to buy SUVs because no other type of vehicle
provides the same level of safety, capability, comfort and convenience.
As a J.D. Power and Associates survey put it: `` . . . the notion that
these vehicles are only being used to go back and forth to work or
grocery shopping is false. The owners of these vehicles lead very
active lifestyles and enjoy the level of comfort and convenience that
they cannot receive in a traditional car product.''
Sport Utility Vehicles are safe
Some are drawn to purchase SUVs, at least in part, because of the
safety they provide. The most recent government data show that today's
SUVs are at least as safe as passenger cars overall, and safer than
cars in the vast majority of crashes. Just a few months ago, the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety completed a study of driver
fatalities in crashes involving one-to-three year old vehicles. The
study shows that in 2001, driver deaths per million registered
passenger vehicles was 73 for SUVs, 83 for passenger cars, and 130 for
pickup trucks. These data indicate that, overall, the fatality rate for
SUV drivers is 12 percent lower than the fatality rate for passenger
car drivers. From 1981 to 2001, driver fatality rates for one-to-three
year old SUVs declined 69 percent, while driver fatality rates for one-
to-three year old passenger cars and pickups declined 53 and 40
As Administrator Runge recently noted, there is a 97 percent chance
that a collision will involve a front, rear or side impact. The safety
record for SUVs in these crashes--the vast majority of all vehicle
collisions--is exceptional. In 2001, the occupant fatality rate per
100,000 registered vehicles for passenger cars in front, rear and side
crashes combined was 12.17. The fatality rate for SUVs was
approximately half that of cars--6.34. For pickup trucks, the rate was
9.25. So, as drivers head out on this country's roads today, in the
rare event they become involved in a crash, there is an overwhelming
likelihood--a 97 percent likelihood--that the crash will involve a
frontal, side or rear collision. In simple terms, the chance of a
fatality in an SUV in those crashes is roughly half of what it is in a
Rollover rates and what GM is doing about it
Government data show proportionately more fatalities in rollover
crashes for light trucks, including SUVs, than for passenger cars.
General Motors has recognized this concern and has been addressing it.
GM utilizes specific performance measurements to assess vehicular
stability in the design of new SUVs. These measurements are intended to
help ensure that the acceleration necessary for an unaided ``tip over''
is significantly greater than the maximum lateral acceleration the
vehicle model can generate on the road. GM has applied these
performance measurements to all new GM products since 1999.
Vehicle rollover collisions are overwhelmingly associated with a
driver loss of control. This may be caused by inattention,
inexperience, or anxiety. After losing control, drivers tend to steer
too fast and/or too far for the prevailing road conditions. The vehicle
can exceed its adhesion limit; the vehicle response is no longer
predictable and recovery can be difficult. If control cannot be
recovered, the vehicle may go off-road; this is the way in which most
rollover events take place.
GM and other manufacturers are attempting to help drivers maintain
control in such extreme conditions and thereby keep the vehicle on the
road. At GM, such systems have various trade names, but all fall into a
single category: ``Vehicle Stability Enhancement Systems.''
The Vehicle Stability Enhancement System (VSES) is an emerging
technology that can help reduce rollover frequency. GM introduced this
system in 1997. It is on over two million GM vehicles that are on the
road today. Vehicle Stability Enhancement is an advanced computer
controlled system that assists the driver with directional control of
the vehicle in difficult driving conditions. The system activates when
a computer senses a discrepancy between the driver's intended path and
the direction the vehicle is actually traveling. The system then
selectively applies braking pressure at any one of the vehicle's wheels
to help steer the vehicle in the appropriate direction.
Another emerging technology that could significantly reduce the
likelihood of rollover injuries is the side curtain air bag. In the
event of a rollover, the air bag deploys and occupies the space between
the occupant and the inside of the vehicle, thereby minimizing the
potential for a head injury and reducing the likelihood for a partial
ejection. This feature also has much promise for those of us who are
concerned about larger vehicle collision with smaller vehicles: the
collision compatibility challenge.
GM, like the Committee, is concerned with vehicle crash
compatibility between passenger cars and SUVs. These crashes are a
relatively minor, but still significant portion of fatal passenger car
crashes--six percent. GM has been working to address the compatibility
challenge for some time; however, we wish to do so without degrading
the overall safety of SUVs or diminishing the popular attributes of
SUVs. For example, we have tried to better align the structural
elements of SUVs with the passenger car fleet. We have added vehicle
structure to spread collision forces broadly across the front of SUVs
and thereby reduce point loading on the impacted car structure. These
design features also help to reduce the potential for intrusion injury
to passenger car occupants. GM is also working to improve passenger car
safety by improving side structures and making side curtain air bags
available in passenger cars.
In addition to its own SUV safety initiatives, GM is working with
industry competitors, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and
NHTSA to develop industry wide approaches to SUV collision
compatibility. Within months, these efforts are expected to yield
common industry standards for SUV collision compatibility and rollover
mitigation. GM is eager to cooperatively address these issues with our
industry and government.
Promoting safe driving
It is important to observe that the data clearly point to the most
effective and immediate way to improve light truck safety: encourage
safety belt use and discourage impaired driving. In 2001, 77 percent
(or 1258 of 1639) of those who suffered a fatal injury in a SUV
rollover crash were not wearing a safety belt. For pickups, 85 percent
(or 1782 of 2100) who suffered a fatal injury during a rollover crash
were unbelted. Safety belts have been shown to be 80 percent effective
in preventing fatal injuries in light truck rollover crashes. The data
on driver impairment are equally eye-opening: 35 percent of fatal SUV
rollover crashes, and 85 percent of fatal pickup truck rollover
crashes, involved an impaired driver in 2001. This is our greatest and
most immediate opportunity to improve the safety performance of SUVs
and other vehicles in rollover crashes.
GM is involved in three major public policy efforts to reduce drunk
driving and increase seat belt use.
First, we are entering the fourth year of a five-year, $2.5 million
commitment to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to help convey the message
that drivers should never operate a vehicle while impaired.
To increase seat belt use, GM has joined its competitors, NHTSA and
others to support the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt
Safety Campaign. The Campaign's signature program, the Operation ABC
Mobilization enlists thousands of law enforcement agencies for highly
intensive education and enforcement activities in May and November each
year. Since the start of the Mobilizations in 1997, the national seat
belt use rate has increased from 61 percent to the current all-time
high of 75 percent. The Campaign has worked for passage of primary
enforcement seat belt use laws in more than twenty states.
Another major commitment, along with the UAW-GM Center for Human
Resources, is to an extensive child passenger safety program with the
National SAFE KIDS Campaign. This program, which began in 1996,
involves public education and the inspection of child safety seats for
proper installation at GM dealerships and community events. We have
donated 81 mobile child seat inspection vans to SAFE KIDS coalitions
around the country. In addition, the UAW and GM have given 212,000
child seats free of charge to at-risk populations and to those who need
new seats. More than 327,000 child seats have been inspected to date.
GM has met the challenge presented by Dr. Runge to improve seat
belt use with additional technology. GM will soon start to install
additional seat belt reminder technology to encourage higher seat belt
use. Our new vehicle fleet will be equipped with these new features to
remind all drivers to buckle up on every trip.
Looking to the future
Congress could play an important role in enhancing motor vehicle
safety in the short term by encouraging more states to adopt primary
enforcement seat belt use laws. Only 18 states and the District of
Columbia currently have laws that allow police to enforce seat belt
requirements in the same way that they enforce every other traffic law.
But since Chairman McCain discussed state action on primary belt laws
at this Committee's hearing on air bag safety in early 1997, only seven
states have upgraded their seat belt laws.
If seat belt use could be raised to the 90 percent-plus levels that
have been achieved in some states, NHTSA estimates several thousand
lives--from rollovers and other types of crashes--can be saved each and
every year. There is no technological solution that has nearly the
potential for such large-scale injury mitigation. Increased seat belt
use would be a meaningful complement to the technology initiatives
already being undertaken by the industry.
The last twenty-plus years have taught us that public policy
initiatives can improve safe driving. Drunk driving fatalities have
been reduced by about 40 percent since 1980--although recent experience
is not positive. In a similar time frame, seat belt use has increased
by 60--65 percentage points. Congressional assistance in this area
would be greatly appreciated and strongly supported by those of us in
the motor vehicle safety business, and could be quite significant in
contributing to our shared goal of a safer roadway environment.
In the meantime, GM will do its part in continuing to develop and
implement technologies to improve vehicle safety.
The Chairman. Thank you very much.
Senator Lautenberg. Mr. Chairman, if I might ask a
question? Will the record be kept open for this hearing so that
I can submit some questions? Because I have to leave.
The Chairman. Absolutely. Absolutely.
STATEMENT OF SUSAN M. CISCHKE, VICE PRESIDENT,
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SAFETY ENGINEERING, FORD MOTOR COMPANY
Ms. Cischke. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
The Chairman. Pull the microphone closer.
Ms. Cischke. Sorry.
Thanks for the opportunity to testify regarding the safety
and design of sport utility vehicles. My name is Susan Cischke,
and I am vice president of Environment and Safety Engineering
for Ford Motor Company. Our automotive brands include Ford,
Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, and
For the past one-hundred years, Ford Motor Company has
recognized its responsibility to provide our customers with
vehicles that have the utility they require and the safety they
demand. We have been leaders in the introduction of safety
features across all our vehicle lines and continuously strive
to improve the safety of all our vehicles. We also believe that
safety is a shared responsibility between the vehicle
manufacturers and the drivers.
In our written testimony, we have described the excellent
safety performance of SUVs in general. It is my privilege to
now highlight our efforts at Ford to advance safety technology.
Ford believes the single most important safety technology
in a vehicle is the safety belt. Ford developed the BeltMinder
system which chimes on and off for several seconds over the
course of five minutes when the driver is not buckled up. It is
standard equipment on all Ford vehicles since 2001. We pursued
our BeltMinder feather not because of regulation, but because
it was the right thing to do, and we now have data to show it
While safety belts are the best means for keeping
passengers safe, new side curtain airbags and rollover sensing
technologies supply additional occupant protection during
certain types of crashes, including rollover. Ford was the
first auto maker to feature rollover sensors and special side
curtain airbags on our SUVs, and we call that the ``safety
canopy,'' which debuted on the 2002 Ford Explorer and Mercury
The safety canopy is designed to remain inflated for an
extended period of time to provide protection, especially
during rollover events. It also helps reduce the risk of head
injuries for SUV occupants involved in side impacts. The Ford
Escape and the Ford Excursion have seat-mounted side airbags to
protect the occupant's head and thorax in a side crash.
Customers buy our SUVs for the excellent protection they
provide in front and side crashes. Ford has more four- and
five-star rated SUVs in the Federal Government Crash Test
Program than any other auto maker. And five of our top-selling
SUVs also has Ford's personal safety system, which is capable
of tailoring the deployment of airbags based on crash severity
in order to enhance the protection for front-seat occupants.
But it is important to look at more than crashworthiness.
We need to look at ways to avoid accidents in the first place.
And Ford does this through extensive vehicle tests that ensure
our vehicles have consistent handling and predictable vehicle
dynamics. Ford is a leader in developing emerging technologies
that show great potential for helping the driver.
Ford first introduced an electronic stability control
system called AdvanceTrac in August of 2000, later adding it to
the majority of SUVs. It monitors the driver's steering,
throttle, and braking inputs to determine the driver's intended
course, and then monitors how the vehicle is responding. When
it detects a deviation, it can react in milliseconds by
applying the brakes to one or more wheels and, if necessary,
adjusting the engine power to help the driver get back on path.
In addition, Ford is the first auto maker to develop and
patent a roll stability control system, which debuted this year
on the Volvo XC90. This system is designed to assist the driver
under severe handling situations and help reduce the likelihood
of a rollover accident by using gyroscopic sensors to determine
roll speed and roll angle. Once engaged, the system reduces
power and/or uses the brake until driver control is regained.
The issue of vehicle compatibility has also drawn much
attention. Ford has been working to improve vehicle
compatibility by adding structure and lowering rail heights of
SUVs. For example, the Expedition, Explorer, and Mountaineer
bumper beam and frame rails are compatible with the height of
bumpers on a typical passenger car, such as the Ford Taurus.
Also, for the 2000 model year Excursion, Ford introduce a
blocker beam that lowers the point of engagement for a frontal
impact and helps prevent the SUV from riding over smaller
Ford will continue to build vehicles with utility and
safety that our customers require. Nevertheless, we view
vehicle safety as a partnership, and where vehicle design ends,
customer responsibility begins. The sad fact is, roughly 50
percent of those who die annually in traffic crashes do not use
safety belts. And in rollover crashes, some 72 percent of the
occupants who died were not belted. Their chance of survival
would have been ten times greater had they buckled up.
As I mentioned earlier, we developed the belt-minder system
to remind them to do so. And studies show that it has increased
safety-belt usage by five percentage points. NHTSA was so
encouraged by this significant increase, they have requested
all auto makers to add this feature. Dr. Runge stated, and I
quote, ``I applaud Ford for showing the initiative, leading the
way to go beyond the minimal Federal requirements and
voluntarily using technology to increase seatbelt use. The
American people win when vehicle manufacturers demonstrate good
corporate citizenship by going beyond the minimums required
under safety standards.'' Ford is making its technology
available at no cost to all other auto makers that are
interested in it.
Governments have a unique role, too. Primary seatbelt-use
laws combined with highly publicized enforcement are key to
increasing safety-belt usage. No other technology has the
capability to save so many lives as quickly at no cost.
In conclusion, Ford will continue to offer our customers
the products and features that they desire, as well as the
improvements in safety, versatility, and compatibility. During
the recent snowstorm that affected Washington, D.C., and the
East Coast, many hospital and other essential government
services relied upon volunteer SUV owners to transport critical
personnel during the adverse weather. These circumstances
dramatically demonstrated the value and the utility of SUVs and
helps explain the strong customer demand for these vehicles.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify before the
Committee, and I would be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Cischke follows:]
Prepared Statement of Susan M. Cischke, Vice President, Environmental
and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Company
Thank you Senator McCain for the opportunity to testify before your
Committee regarding the safety and design of Sport Utility Vehicles
(SUVs). My name is Susan M. Cischke and I am Vice President of
Environmental and Safety Engineering for Ford Motor Company. As you may
know, Ford Motor Company is the world's second largest automaker with
approximately 350,000 employees, and operates in more than 200 markets
on six continents. Its automotive brands include Aston Martin, Ford,
Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury and Volvo.
For the past 100 years, Ford Motor Company (Ford) has recognized
its responsibility to provide our customers with vehicles that have the
utility they require and the safety they demand. We are committed to
continuous improvement in the safety of all our vehicles and have been
leaders in the introduction of safety features across all our vehicle
lines. We also believe that safety is a shared responsibility between
vehicle manufacturers and vehicle operators. We will continue our long-
standing efforts to promote increased safety belt usage and to
encourage responsible driving.
It is my privilege to share with this Committee the rest of the
story, about the efforts that Ford takes to ensure the safety of our
SUVs, areas of Ford safety leadership, our efforts to continuously
improve our vehicles, and our initiatives to encourage our customers to
Americans value freedom--especially the freedom to make choices for
themselves and their families based on what meets their individual
needs. When Ford introduced the Explorer in 1991 in response to
customer needs, it struck a cord with the American public. Since then
the Explorer has become the SUV that more Americans have chosen than
any other SUV to carry their families, friends and various types of
cargo millions of miles across every kind of terrain in the country.
Customers weigh many factors when choosing a family vehicle--cost,
capability and safety, to name a few. In 2002 alone, 4 million
customers worldwide have found that SUVs fit the bill in these areas
and more. While there are more vehicle choices in the market than ever
before, the SUV segment is the fastest growing in the industry,
accounting for 25 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States in
2002, up 6.3 percent from 2001.
As the leader in the SUV segment, Ford takes seriously the
commitment to continuously improve these vehicles through the
development of new technologies. As we move forward, we will continue
our philosophy of `no compromise' when it comes to designing features
that customers want. We will give our customers the products and
features that they desire--as well as improvements in safety,
versatility and compatibility.
SUV owners demand an exceptional safety record from their
vehicles--and they get it. According to data from the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
SUVs are among the safest vehicles on the road and have
contributed to the dramatic decline in our nation's fatality
rate over the last decade.
SUVs are protective of occupants in all crash modes. In
2001, roughly 3,500 SUV occupants died in crashes, compared to
more than 20,000 passenger car occupants. When these numbers
are normalized for the number of registered vehicles on the
road, there is no discernable difference in overall fatality
rates between SUVs and passenger cars. Both have been
declining, but SUV fatality rates have been declining faster
than those of other vehicle segments.
SUVs are twice as protective of their occupants than any
other passenger vehicle in frontal, side and rear-impact
crashes, which make up 97 percent of all crashes. Ford's family
of SUVs is a leader in this area, with all our vehicles scoring
either four or five stars in frontal and side impacts.
The fatality rate in the Explorer in all crash types is 27
percent lower than passenger cars overall and 17 percent lower
than other SUVs, according to our analysis of data from the
U.S. Department of Transportation.
While SUVs do experience a higher rollover rate than passenger
cars, rollovers are rare events and the rates are declining:
Rollovers account for only 3 percent of all vehicle crashes.
Despite the over 103 percent increase in the number of
registered SUVs since 1996, rollover fatality rates per 100,000
registered passenger vehicles have declined for all vehicle
body types, with SUVs exhibiting the largest decline.
Given a rollover, SUVs are more protective of occupants in
rollovers than are passenger cars. Compared to passenger cars
involved in rollovers, SUVs lower the occurrence of injury by
almost 20 percent. And SUV occupants incur the fewest number of
rollover fatalities occurring annually, compared to passenger
cars or pick-up trucks.
Safety technology is what keeps Ford vehicles at the forefront of
protecting our customers on the road. We are proud of the fact that
Ford Motor Company SUVs have the most advanced technology available
today. Ford investigates both crash avoidance and crashworthiness
opportunities to help improve vehicle safety for our customers.
Customers buy our SUVs for their many attributes including the
excellent protection they provide in front and side impact crashes. In
general, Ford has more four and five star rated SUVs in the federal
government's crash test program than any other automaker. The need for
a vehicle to provide self-protection is important for all types of
crashes including those with cars, other SUVs and light trucks as well
as single vehicle crashes, including rollover accidents.
Ford believes the single most important safety technology in a
vehicle is the safety belt. If a belted occupant is in a rollover
accident, their chance of survival is ten times higher than unbelted
occupants. For that reason and more, Ford developed the BeltMinder
TM system to remind drivers to buckle up. Ford's BeltMinder
TM system repeatedly chimes on and off for several seconds
over the course of 5 minutes when the driver is not buckled up. It is
standard equipment on all Ford vehicles since 2001. It was somewhat
controversial for Ford to introduce this feature since it could be
considered annoying to our customers. But we also knew how important it
is to buckle up and that some of our customers needed a gentle reminder
to wear their safety belt. We pursued our BeltMinder TM
feature, not because of regulation, but because it was the right thing
to do, and we now have data to show it is working! A recent study by
the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) determined that
occupants of vehicles equipped with BeltMinder TM were
buckling up at a rate 5 percentage points higher than similar vehicles
without BeltMinder TM. NHTSA was so encouraged by this
significant increase in safety belt usage that they have requested all
automakers to add this feature.
While safety belts are the single best tool for keeping passengers
inside the vehicle during a rollover, new side curtain air bags and
rollover sensing technology supply additional occupant protection
during certain types of crashes, including rollover. Ford was the first
automaker to feature rollover sensors and special side curtain air bags
on its SUVs, called the Safety Canopy TM, which debuted on
the 2002 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.
The Safety Canopy TM air bags are designed to remain
inflated for an extended period of time to provide enhanced protection
especially during rollover events. The air bags have fixed attachment
points at the front and rear ends of the curtain to help reduce both
partial and complete ejection of vehicle occupants during rollovers.
The inflatable curtain system also helps reduce the risk of head
injuries for SUV occupants involved in side impacts. This feature is
also currently available on the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Aviator and
Lincoln Navigator. It will also be available later this year on the
2003 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.
To reduce the risk of injuries in a side impact, the Ford Escape
and Ford Excursion have seat mounted side airbags that cover both the
occupant's head and thorax.
In addition, the Explorer 4-door, Expedition, Mountaineer, Aviator
and Navigator have Ford's Personal Safety System TM that
tailors restraint deployment to crash severity and other factors. The
system comprises several features working together to help protect the
driver and right-front passenger in the event of a collision. The
system is able to adjust the deployment of the air bags to enhance
protection for front seat occupants, depending on a number of factors.
It does this with the help of several components:
Electronic crash severity sensor
Personal Safety System TM restraint control
Dual-stage driver and right-front passenger airbags
Driver's seat position sensor
Front outboard safety belt energy management retractors
Front outboard safety belt pre-tensioners
Front outboard safety belt usage sensors
Vehicle Crash Avoidance:
The first step in protecting vehicle occupants, after getting them
to buckle up, is to find ways to reduce the likelihood that the driver
will lose control of the vehicle, keeping the vehicle on the road and
avoiding the crash altogether. Ford does this through extensive vehicle
tests that ensure our vehicles have consistent handling and predictable
vehicle dynamics. Ford is a leader in developing emerging technologies
that show great potential for helping the driver, such as Electronic
Stability Control (ESC) and Roll Stability Control (RSC) systems.
Every Ford SUV goes through a proprietary set of vehicle dynamics
and handling characteristics testing. We design our vehicles to handle
predictably even in severe handling maneuvers. This is the vehicle
handling foundation on which our vehicle performance is based. We
believe that advanced technologies such as ESC and RSC have the
potential to further assist drivers when conditions change suddenly or
unanticipated events occur.
Ford first introduced an electronic stability (yaw) control system,
called AdvanceTrac TM, in August 2000. This system monitors
the driver's steering, throttle and braking inputs and from the
steering angle and vehicle speed determines the driver's intended
course. AdvanceTrac TM also constantly monitors the
vehicle's response, including vehicle motion, inferred from a yaw rate
sensor, lateral accelerometer and wheel speed sensors. If the system
detects a deviation of the vehicle's motion from the driver's intended
path, in milliseconds it briefly brakes one or more wheels--and if
necessary, retards spark timing and cuts back fuel delivery--to help
the driver get the vehicle back on its desired path. AdvanceTrac
TM is available on the following vehicles: Explorer 4-door,
Expedition, Mountaineer, Aviator (late availability) and Navigator.
Most ESC systems are based on yaw control--the ability to maintain
control of the vehicle in a rear slide or in front plowing. Recent
advances in electronic technology have made it possible to also monitor
wheel lift and reduce the potential for rollover, during an extreme
limit-handling maneuver such as avoiding an obstacle. Ford is the first
automaker to develop and patent a Roll Stability Control system, which
debuted on the new 2003 Volvo XC90 SUV. Our RSC system is designed to
assist the driver in maintaining control during an obstacle avoidance
event and to help reduce the likelihood of the SUV rolling over.
Ford's RSC system is an active stability enhancement system
utilizing gyroscopic sensors to determine roll speed and roll angle.
Terminal angle--the angle in which a rollover is imminent--is instantly
calculated, thus triggering the XC90's standard electronic stability
control system, called Dynamic Stability Traction Control TM
(DSTC TM). Once engaged, the DSTC TM system
reduces power and/or brakes the necessary wheels to induce an
understeer situation until driver control is regained.
Electronic stability control systems, and the added feature of roll
stability control, are emerging technologies that we believe will help
drivers avoid crashes. However, not all electronic stability control
systems are equivalent and actual performance may vary due to different
threshold strategies. Several years of careful development and untold
resources have gone into creating these systems. They require careful
implementation on individual vehicle platforms and must be configured
to provide assistance to the driver, without being intrusive or
compromising the base handling of the vehicle. While we remain
cautiously optimistic as to their effectiveness, we will closely
monitor the performance and actual benefits of these systems in the
Vehicle Crash Compatibility:
Cars, as well as motorcycles and bicycles, have always shared the
road with large commercial trucks, buses, cargo vans and pick-up
trucks. Historically, size differences among vehicles were more
pronounced in the 1970s than they are today.
While the vehicle fleet in the U.S. is changing to include more and
more light trucks and vans over the last ten to fifteen years and the
number of vehicle miles traveled has continued to increase, the total
number of crash fatalities has stayed relatively constant.
Ford continues to be a leader in researching the factors that
contribute to crash safety and compatibility, including weight,
geometry and stiffness and in translating that research into
enhancements to vehicle design. Ford is working with NHTSA to assess
whether vehicle compatibility can be predicted by measuring average
height of force, to evaluate not just ``bumper alignment'', but also
the load path that would transmit force by the striking vehicle. By
aligning the load path, it is possible to reduce harm to the struck
vehicle. The industry is working cooperatively with NHTSA and the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to develop test methodology to
address this concern.
Ford has been working to improve the safety of cars in collisions
with SUVs by adding structure and lowering rail heights of SUVs. For
example, in the 2003 Expedition and Navigator, the bumper beam is
attached directly to the front of the frame rail, instead of being
bracketed to the top. This allows the rails to more directly engage a
struck object and manages the crash forces more efficiently. For
example, the Expedition bumper beam and rail are compatible with the
height of the bumper on a Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable. Also the frame
of the 2003 Explorer and Mountaineer was lowered to be more compatible
with other vehicles on the road.
In addition, Ford introduced on the 2000 Excursion, Ford's
BlockerBeam TM that offers front bumper underride protection
for crash compatibility with smaller vehicles. The BlockerBeam
TM lowers the point of engagement for a frontal impact with
an SUV to the same level as a Taurus. This helps prevent the SUV from
riding over the passenger car, and transfers crash forces to engineered
crumple zones on both the striking and the struck vehicles where they
can be best managed.
The automotive industry in general and Ford in particular will
continue to build vehicles with the utility and safety that our
customers require. Nevertheless, we view vehicle safety as a
partnership and where vehicle design ends, customer responsibility
Safety is a Shared Responsibility
Safety is an interaction between the customer, the vehicle and the
environment. It is a shared responsibility and one Ford does not take
lightly. We must continue efforts to increase safety belt use and
encourage responsible driving. In terms of vehicle safety, the most
effective technology to protect occupants is already in every vehicle
on the road--a safety belt. In seconds, customers can protect
themselves and their loved ones by buckling up.
Data from 2001 show that there were 42,116 fatalities, of which
31,910 were vehicle occupants and the additional 10,206 were
pedestrians and bicyclists. The current belt use rate nationwide is 75
percent. It is estimated that increasing belt use from 75 percent to 90
percent would save 6,600 additional lives each year. Moreover, safety
belts are 45 percent effective in preventing fatalities in passenger
car crashes; they are 60 percent effective in preventing fatalities in
light truck crashes and 80 percent effective in preventing fatalities
in light truck rollovers. In 2001, safety belts saved over 12,000
lives. Despite the increased use of safety belts in recent years, the
sad fact is that roughly 50 percent of those who die annually in
traffic crashes do not use them. And in rollover crashes, some 72
percent of occupants who died weren't wearing their safety belt. The
ramifications of not wearing a safety belt are clear when nearly
threequarters of those killed in rollover crashes were completely
ejected from the vehicle.
Ford supports efforts to increase safety belt usage through its
ongoing membership in the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign, which
provides high profile air bag education, seat belt mobilizations and
promulgation of primary seat belt laws.
Ford also provides our customers with a Safety Advice Card to
educate occupants regarding the important safety features included in
their vehicle. The card reminds occupants that the safety belt is still
the number one safety device and to buckle up properly for vehicle
occupants of all ages.
Every Ford owner's guide states ``All occupants of the vehicle,
including the driver, should always properly wear their safety belts,
even when an air bag (SRS) is provided.'' And ``In a rollover crash, an
unbelted person is significantly more likely to die than a person
wearing a safety belt.''
If a belted occupant is in a rollover accident, his chances of
survival are ten times higher than unbelted occupants. For that reason
and more, we developed the BeltMinder TM system to remind
drivers to buckle up. NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge recognized
Ford last year in a letter to all vehicle manufacturers where he
``I applaud Ford for showing the initiative, leading the way to
go beyond the minimum Federal requirements, and voluntarily
using technology to increase seat belt use . . . The American
people win when vehicle manufacturers demonstrate good
corporate citizenship by going beyond the minimums required
under safety standards. Innovation beyond the standard allows
greater flexibility in product design, while allowing those
products to reach consumers faster and keep them safer.''
A 2001 study by the IIHS on Ford's BeltMinder TM safety
belt reminder system found that the BeltMinder TM increased
belt use by 5 percentage points, which they describe as a significant
increase. This increase puts belt usage in Ford vehicles close to 80
percent. It has been estimated that this 5 percent point increase in
belt use would prevent more than 1,000 deaths and more than 20,000
injuries annually if it were achieved in all vehicles. BeltMinder
TM is now being expanded to also include the front passenger
seats, which will be phased in across all new Ford vehicles beginning
with the 2004 MY.
Ford is also making this technology available at no cost to all
other automakers that are interested in it. Upon request, Ford will
grant automotive manufacturers and suppliers a license to use the
BeltMinder TM technology so long as any enhancements made to
the technology are freely granted back to the automotive industry.
Ford strives to provide the very best personal transportation
choices for our customers. We will offer our customers the products and
features that they desire--as well as improvements in safety,
versatility and compatibility. We take seriously our commitment to
continually improve our vehicles through the development of new
When it comes to encouraging people to buckle up, governments have
a unique role to play. Primary enforcement safety belt use laws
combined with highly publicized enforcement are the keys to high safety
belt usage levels. No other technology has the capability to save so
many lives this quickly at no cost.
Ford has taken a holistic approach to vehicle safety--and
specifically SUV safety--because drivers can't choose the accidents
they may experience. To further ensure the safety of all drivers on the
road, Ford recommends:
Always wear your safety belt. Research shows that for every
1 percent increase in safety belt use, 270 lives would be saved
Never drink and drive. NHTSA estimates that alcohol was a
factor in 41 percent of all fatal crashes in 2001, which
resulted in 17,448 fatalities.
Always place your child passengers in the backseat, and
always use child safety seats correctly.
Obey the speed limit, and take into account road conditions.
Speeding is one of the prevalent factors contributing to
traffic crashes. In 2001, speeding was a factor in 30 percent
of all fatal crashes.
Finally, read your owner's manual for SUV safe driving tips.
SUVs have a higher center of gravity than passenger cars and
thus require different driving techniques. Drivers should be
careful not to carry more passengers than there are safety
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee
today. I would be happy to answer any questions.
The Chairman. Thank you very much.
Mr. Tinto, welcome.
STATEMENT OF CHRISTOPHER TINTO, DIRECTOR, TECHNICAL AND
REGULATORY AFFAIRS, TOYOTA MOTOR NORTH
Mr. Tinto. Thank you, Senator.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman. My name is Chris Tinto. I am
director of Technical and Regulatory Affairs for Toyota Motor
North America. On behalf of Toyota, thank you for this
opportunity to testify on these important vehicle safety
Toyota is the third-largest auto manufacturer in the world,
and the fourth in the United States with a collective
investment in the U.S. totalling more than $12 billion.
Together with our dealers, we employ 112,000 Americans.
Toyota's philosophy regarding safety is to exceed the
safety standards in every market around the world in which we
sell vehicles. Consistent with Toyota's philosophy of
continuous improvement, or kaizen, we do not wait for Federal
requirements before incorporating safety technologies. As
automotive technology had advanced, Toyota has integrated
world-class safety features into our vehicles, and we are proud
of the accomplishments we have made in their application.
In our written statement, we explain some of the safety
improvements that are specific to the eight SUVs we market in
the United States. They include anti-lock brakes, brake-assist
systems, high-strength body structures and crumple zones,
pretensioning and load-limiting seatbelts, front cross beams
for improved compatibility, electronic vehicle stability
control, side airbags, and side curtain shield airbags. Also we
are one of the first to offer a production rollover sensing
system where sensors provide an additional trigger for our side
In addition, Toyota is ahead of schedule in meeting all
voluntary industry guidelines to help reduce injury to children
from side airbag deployment with full implementation across our
entire fleet by 2003.
In 1996, Toyota invented a new category of compact sport
utility vehicles, otherwise known as ``crossover vehicles,''
which are based on passenger-car platforms and typically
perform more like passenger cars than the traditional truck-
It is important to note that sport utility vehicles, as a
class, are designed to do things that other vehicles simply
cannot. They offer the utility, ground clearance, and all-
wheel-drive capability demanded by our customers, and we are
confident that these features were appreciated by the people
who needed to get around during our recent heavy snowstorms in
the D.C. area.
However, we also recognize that the higher ground clearance
of these vehicles contributes to a higher incidence of
rollover, when compared to passenger cars as a broad class. But
we would also note that the vehicles with the highest rollover
rate is actually not an SUV, but it is a sports car. Published
data shows that rollovers are rare events and account for about
3 percent of all crashes. Nevertheless, we must try to reduce
that number even further.
To this end, we are working with government agencies and
other organizations, like the IHS, around the world in
cooperative research efforts. For example, we have worked very
closely with the NHTSA, and we are happy to share with the
agency our experience and knowledge for assessing rollovers. As
a result, NHTSA's new dynamic rollover NCAP test program will
include a variant of Toyota's own test commonly known as the
``fishhook.'' We also recognize that crash compatibility is of
growing concern, and we have been conducting internal testing
in R&D in this area for many years.
Toyota is an active member of the industry's International
Compatibility Working Group, which gathered industry experts
from around the world earlier this month. We join the industry
in calling for voluntary adoption of improved head-impact
protection systems such as the curtain shield airbags found on
many of the vehicles in our lineup.
Finally, Toyota believes that automotive safety is a shared
responsibility among government, industry, and consumers. We
are moving with the industry to improve the safety of SUVs and
are implementing the latest innovations, but we also need the
government's help. Too many Americans ignore the single most
effective safety system in the vehicle, the safety belt. It is
essential that primary seatbelt usage laws go on the books in
all 50 States. The data shows that the usage rates in States
with primary belt laws average 80 percent, versus only 69
percent for States without these laws. Improving belt-usage
rate currently found in California, for example, could save
thousands of American lives per year, far exceeding any
technological advances that we could now envision. This would
be especially valuable in rollovers to keep the occupants in
the vehicle, where it is safest.
Toyota has been doing its part since 1997, when we
introduced our belt-reminder technology that warns the driver--
both the driver and the front passenger--when they are not
buckled. Today, almost 100 percent of Toyota's fleet has this
technology. But without enforcement, we cannot hope to realize
the full safety benefits that seatbelts and their integrated
systems can provide.
In summary, Toyota is confident in the design of our SUVs.
We continually strive to maintain the flexibility and utility
that our customers demand, but we will not sacrifice safety to
reach that goal. We never forget that our own families ride in
these vehicles each and every day.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Tinto follows:]
Prepared Statement of Christopher Tinto, Director, Technical and
Regulatory Affairs, Toyota Motor North America
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee;
Good morning. I am Chris Tinto, Director of Technical and
Regulatory Affairs, for Toyota Motor North America. Thank you for this
opportunity to testify on the important safety matters that the
Committee is considering and to present Toyota's record in improving
Toyota is the third largest automotive manufacturer in the world,
and the fourth largest in the United States.
In 2002, Toyota produced nearly one million vehicles and a wide
variety of components at its six U.S. facilities. More than half of our
sales in the U.S. are of vehicles manufactured in this country.
Toyota directly employs more than 30,000 American workers in
manufacturing, marketing, and distribution, and our dealers employ
another 82,000. Toyota's cumulative investment in the United States
totals more than 12 billion dollars. That number will only grow as our
new engine plant in Alabama and our new truck plant in Texas come
With respect to safety, Toyota's internal corporate philosophy is
not only to meet, but to exceed, the motor vehicle safety standards in
every global market in which we sell vehicles. Consistent with Toyota's
philosophy of continuous improvement--or kaizen--we do not wait for
Federal requirements before incorporating safety technology. Vehicle
design is an evolutionary process and, as automotive technology has
advanced, Toyota has integrated new safety features in all of our
vehicles. We are proud of the accomplishments our people have made in
development, application and improvement of these world-class safety
We introduce significant safety improvements with every major model
change. Recognizing that the focus of today's hearing is SUVs, let me
outline some of those safety improvements that are specific to the
eight models of sport utility vehicles Toyota markets in the United
States. These include, but are not limited to:
Antilock brake system, available on all of our SUVs;
Brake Assist systems that help drivers to apply full braking
in an emergency situation, available in most of our SUVs;
Crumple zones which help to absorb energy and dissipate
loads in collisions;
High strength body structures to help lessen intrusion into
the occupant compartment in a crash;
Front cross beams for improved partner protection in frontal
and side crashes;
Vehicle Stability Control, which is an active safety system
to help reduce skids and maintain driver control. Toyota was
first to the market with this technology in our 1997 Lexus
passenger car models, and today leads the industry in its
adoption across a wide variety of vehicle types. In fact, we
plan to have Vehicle Stability Control technology available on
100 percent of our SUV fleet by next year;
Side airbags to protect an occupant's torso, now available
on most of our SUV models;
Toyota was one of the first in the world to offer a side
curtain shield airbag in 1998 in a passenger car for improved
head protection, which is now available in the majority of our
Rollover sensors, to provide an additional trigger for the
side curtain shield airbags. Toyota was one of the first in the
world to adopt a production rollover sensing system that is now
featured in the 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser and the Lexus LX 470.
In addition, Toyota is ahead of schedule in meeting all voluntary
industry guidelines on side airbags to help reduce injury potential to
children, achieving full implementation across our entire SUV and
passenger car fleet by the 2003 Model Year.
In 1996, with the introduction of the RAV4, Toyota invented a new
category of compact sport utility vehicles based on passenger car
engineering. In 1998, Lexus created the template for mid-sized luxury
utility vehicles with the immensely popular RX 300. Based on a
passenger car/SUV ``crossover platform,'' these vehicles typically
perform more like passenger cars than the traditional, truck-based
To use just one model as an example of our philosophy of constant
improvement, consider these safety advancements in the design of the
Lexus RX 330, successor to our most popular luxury SUV, the RX 300. In
this new model, we added these available features:
An air suspension system that automatically lowers the
entire vehicle at highway speed to improve vehicle response and
A high-strength body structure in anticipation of NHTSA's
proposed upgraded standards for 50 mph rear impact;
Front and rear curtain shield side airbags;
Front-seat mounted side airbags, which cover a larger area,
including the torso, abdomen and pelvis;
Driver's side knee airbag;
An adaptive laser cruise control system that controls
An Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) that helps
illuminate a turn or curve as the driver steers into it;
A tire pressure monitor that alerts the driver in the event
of tire under-inflation, in advance of Federal requirements;
A rear back-up camera that enhances visibility when
The RX 330 also contains the safety features found in the present
generation RX, including Vehicle Stability Control, and a Brake Assist
feature to automatically provide additional assistance to a driver
attempting emergency braking.
These, Mr. Chairman, are just a few examples of the safety
improvements we have been able to add to one of our sport utility
models in a single model change.
We want to note that sport utility vehicles, as a broad class, are
designed to do things that other vehicles simply cannot do. They offer
utility, ground clearance, and all-wheel drive capability demanded by
our customers--and which we are sure was appreciated by those who used
them to move about during our recent heavy snowstorm in the DC area.
However, we also recognize that, due to their inherent design, and
notably their higher ground clearance, these vehicles have a higher
incidence of rollover in accidents, when compared to passenger cars as
a broad class. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that the
vehicle with the highest rollover rate in published data is in
actuality not an SUV, but a sports car.
It is also important to note that, while published accident
statistics suggest that fatality rates are declining for all vehicles--
cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups the biggest improvements have occurred
in the SUV category. We believe the improvements that Toyota and our
industry have introduced can be credited with some of that progress.
Published data show that rollovers are rare events, accounting for
about three percent of all crashes. But Toyota's philosophy of
continuous improvement requires that we continue our efforts to reduce
them even further. In this regard, we're also working with government
agencies around the world in cooperative research efforts to improve
all aspects of vehicle performance.
For example, we have worked very closely with the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration as it meets its new rulemaking
responsibilities under the TREAD Act. We have met numerous times with
NHTSA engineers to help them develop the best procedures for assessing
rollover, and were happy to share with the agency our experience and
knowledge in this area. As a result, NHTSA's new dynamic rollover test
in its New Car Assessment Program includes a variant of Toyota's
internal test commonly known as the ``fishhook'' test.
We also recognize that the issue of crash compatibility is one of
growing concern. Toyota has been conducting research and development,
including internal testing, in this area for many years. We have used
the results of this research and development to help us design better
structures; to improve our front and side airbags and side curtains; to
consider frame design; and to develop front beams and reinforcements
that help distribute crash loads.
Toyota is an active member of the industry's international
compatibility working group, which held its first meeting of industry
experts from around the world earlier this month. We contributed a
proposal for additional compatibility tests, and committed to seeing
changes made to improve both occupant protection and geometric
compatibility in future models. We join the industry in calling for
voluntary adoption of improved head protection systems such as the
curtain shield airbags currently installed on many of the vehicles in
As part of our commitment to public education, Toyota also is a
significant contributor to the industry's Air Bag and Seatbelt Safety
Campaign. The Campaign uses a three-pronged approach of education,
enactment and enforcement to heighten public awareness about the
benefits and risks of airbags and the importance of keeping children
buckled in the back seat. The Campaign sponsors Operation ABC
Mobilization twice a year in partnership with NHTSA and over 12,000 law
enforcement agencies nationwide. The Mobilization highlights
enforcement of seat belt laws currently on the books and advocates
enactment of primary seat belt legislation in states without those
Toyota also is an active member of a side impact voluntary
standards working group, where new standards were drafted to afford
protection for children from airbag-induced injuries. Toyota led the
industry in adoption of these new standards, and this year has 100
percent compliance with the strict new guidelines.
Finally, Toyota believes that automotive safety is a responsibility
shared by industry, government, and consumers. Toyota and other
automakers are moving to improve the overall safety of SUVs, and we are
implementing the latest innovations. But we also seek government's help
on the Federal, State, and Local levels to improve the safety of
drivers and passengers in vehicles of all types.
It is of the utmost importance that primary seat belt usage laws go
on the books in all 50 states. Data shows that the usage rates in
states with primary belt laws average 80 percent vs. 69 percent for
states without these laws. Just improving belt usage to the 90 percent
rate currently found in California, for example, could save thousands
of American lives per year--far exceeding any technological advances
that we could now envision. This change could be implemented quickly,
with an immediate result in lives saved. This would be especially
useful in rollovers, in which most fatalities and serious injuries
occur to those who are unbelted at the time of the rollover.
In this regard, Toyota has been doing its part to improve belt use
rates since 1997, when we introduced our belt reminder technology that
warns both the driver and the front passenger when they are not
buckled. As of 2003, almost 100 percent of Toyota's fleet has this
technology. But without enforcement, we cannot hope to realize the full
safety benefits that seat belts can provide.
In summary, Toyota is confident in the design of our SUVs. We
continually strive to maintain the flexibility and utility that our
customers demand, but we will not sacrifice safety to reach that goal.
We never forget that our own families ride in these vehicles every day.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Well, thank you. And I want to thank the
Mr. Tinto, since you have the microphone, in your written
testimony, you state Toyota has been working with government
agencies around the world to discover ways to improve all
aspects of vehicle performance. What are some of the measures
that other countries have taken to improve vehicle safety and
performance? And which measures could be adopted by the United
Mr. Tinto. I think a lot of the research has been somewhat
parallel. Several of the governments around the world have been
looking at improved crash testing, offset frontal crash
testing. Some have been looking at, for example, in Europe, in
the Euro NCAP system they have been looking improved rating
systems for consumer information. I know in Canada they are
working on side impact protection. I believe NHTSA has been
cooperating with those governments, as well, and we feel like
similar paths are being undertaken.
The Chairman. Mr. O'Neill, what is the difference between
the vehicle safety tests conducted by NHTSA and those that the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performs?
Mr. O'Neill. In frontal crash tests, the Federal Government
does what is called a ``full-width barrier test'' at 35 miles
an hour. That means the whole front end of the vehicle impacts
rigid barrier. This is generally considered a reasonably good
test of the restraint systems in the car, because it produces a
very high deceleration inside the occupant compartment.
For frontal crash testing, we conduct an offset deformable
barrier test, which involves an impact with part of the front
end of the vehicle hitting a barrier that has a deformable
face. This test is now used in Europe and Australia and Japan
and is considered a good complementary test to the government's
frontal test because it is a measure or a good way to measure
the structural design of the car, how strong the compartment
is, and how effective the crush zone is in managing--the crush
zone or crumple zone--in managing the energy of the collision.
When it comes to side crashes, the Federal Government is
impacting the sides of vehicles with a barrier that has a
deformable face on it, a moving barrier that hits the side of
vehicles. That barrier represents the front end of a passenger
car of about the 1980s vintage. We have just begun a side-
impact test program where we are also impacting the sides of
vehicles with a moving barrier, but the deformable face on our
barrier represents the front end of an SUV or a pickup truck.
So one big difference between our side test and the
government's test is that to do well in our test, manufacturers
will have to provide some form of head protection for side
impacts. Whereas, in the government's test, the head does not
get involved because the impacting barrier is so much lower.
The Chairman. In your opinion, which should be of greater
concern when addressing vehicle safety issues, vehicle rollover
or crash compatibility?
Mr. O'Neill. I think we should move forward on reducing
rollover, reducing the risk of a rollover occurring in the
first place, then reducing--also putting some attention on
reducing the consequences if a rollover happens. We will not be
able to prevent all rollovers. I think some of the new
technologies promise to prevent some, perhaps many. But we
should also be working for features that operate and protect
people during the rollover event, features such as inflatable
curtains that deploy, as we have heard in the Volvo SUV, and
making sure that we have roofs with adequate strength.
The Chairman. Ms. Claybrook and Mr. Pittle, what role
should Congress undertake while NHTSA conducts rulemakings and
industry develops voluntary standards?
Ms. Claybrook. Well, at this point----
The Chairman. You have got to pull the microphone----
Ms. Claybrook. I am sorry. At this point, the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not conducting any
rulemakings on these issues. It has a pending----
The Chairman. Your view, they should.
Ms. Claybrook. And in my view, they should, on rollover
prevention, which is just a consumer information rule, on
protection in the crash, which is--they have an advance notice,
and on compatibility, which they have no rules pending at this
The Chairman. Mr. Pittle?
Mr. Pittle. Yes. We believe, as you heard earlier, there
are no real rulemakings underway. And I want to point out that
when Congress said, in the TREAD Act, that there must be a
dynamic rollover test, they did it, and they did a pretty good
Ms. Claybrook. By a date certain.
Mr. Pittle. By date certain. There was a November 2002.
When you said that there should be an upgraded tire
standard that was decades old, they have come out with a very
good proposal. When you have given direction about child safety
seats and other aspects of the work, they followed your
The problem is, they have trouble setting their own
direction, but they are very good at following your direction,
and I believe that you should be specifying on the date certain
that you want to see the roof crush standard finished.
You know, when people wearing a seatbelt--and nobody could
argue against trying to get more seatbelt usage. We certainly
try that ourselves. But when a car rolls over and you are in a
car that has got a weak roof, you are in place--you are stuck
in place while this car crushes down on top of you. You need to
have a stronger roof, and that standard has been languishing
and needs to be finished. You are the only one that can set
that. There is too much going on in which they are--you know, I
am sitting here reading my quotes earlier. ``We do not design
vehicles. We hope they do a good job. We depend on their
research. We are watching to see what they do.'' That is not
the voice of an agency that you gave the responsibility to
protect the public; that is the voice of someone who, as Dr.
Martinez says, ``What can we do? We are out-manned, we are out-
gunned, we are out-spent.'' You need to get involved.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Again, for both of you, you heard GM testify that recent
government data shows that, overall, today's SUVs are at least
as safe as passenger cars and safer than cars in the vast
majority of crashes. Do you agree with that statement? And does
your data support such a statement?
Mr. Pittle and then Ms. Claybrook.
Mr. Pittle. Well, we buy cars and test them. We are ``car
guys.'' And so what we see is that the cars that we are testing
today are--some of them are coming through with improved safety
features, like electronic stability control. We see that as a
positive benefit, and we do not see any reason why that should
become a luxury add-on feature. We think of that as a core
safety feature for anyone in an SUV. So we see that
We see vehicles coming through that are increasingly put on
car frames. In fact, in the--our sport utility vehicle special
which just came out, we compare the performance of SUVs that
are on car-base frames and truck frames, and the handling and
the performance characteristics, right down the line, are
always better with car-based vehicles. So we know that they
know how to make cars that are going to be more forgiving and,
we believe, safer for consumers. So we see that improvement
The question is not whether people are not doing anything,
it is are they doing it in a timely way and who is setting the
priorities. You said NHTSA should set the priorities. We
believe you were right.
The Chairman. Do you want to comment, Ms. Claybrook. And
also, along with that, do you believe that there are any SUVs
that are as safe as passenger cars?
Ms. Claybrook. Yes. There is a listing of--list by make and
model that has been developed by two excellent researchers who
I mentioned before. They are documented in my testimony, Ross
and Wenzel. I would say that the--some large cars and some mid-
sized cars and some compact cars actually in that in that
analysis are safer than SUVs. The Toyota Camry, the Volkswagen
Jetta, the Honda Accord, the Honda Civic, even, are safer than
the Ford Expedition, for example. So that is for--in terms of
the driver deaths.
The key issue to me here is that you should not measure the
safety of these vehicles just by the safety of their own
occupants. I think that is unethical. I think you have to look
at the overall performance of these vehicles and measure not
only how they protect their own occupants, but whether they do
horrendous damage to other occupants in other vehicles. And----
The Chairman. Which is the subject of this article this
Ms. Claybrook. Yes, that is correct. And an excellent
article was done in the L.A. Times, which I would like to
submit for the record, that describes this. And also----
The Chairman. Without objection.
[The information referred to follows:]
Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2003
Study Questions Safety of SUVs; Researchers find that pickups and sport
utilities on average are less protective of their drivers than most
large or even mid-size cars.
By Myron Levin, Times Staff Writer
Which is safer, a Honda Accord or the nearly one-ton- heavier Ford
Expedition? Chances are that the brawny SUV would hold up better in a
Yet drivers of Accords and Expeditions have about the same risk of
suffering a fatal accident, new research shows. And when the risk to
other drivers is factored in, the Accord is safer by far.
Or consider the massive Chevrolet Suburban, identified by the
research as safest among popular SUVs. But according to the data,
drivers of Suburbans and shrimpy Volkswagen Jettas have about the same
The novel study's bottom line: Sport utility vehicles and pickups
aren't as protective as many of their owners believe, while they are
also uniquely dangerous to everyone else.
The auto industry maintains that SUVs have contributed to a decline
in the rate of highway deaths because heavier vehicles are safer for
their drivers. ``SUVs have an excellent safety record, and they're as
safe as cars,'' said Eron Shosteck of the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers, a leading industry group.
But Marc Ross of the University of Michigan, co-author of the study
with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Thomas Wenzel,
contends that a hard look at the data indicates otherwise.
Indeed, the study takes a contrarian jab at an iron maxim of
highway safety: that heavy is good and heavier is better.
``We need to . . .move away from the idea that bigger and heavier
vehicles are automatically safer,'' said Ross, a physicist. ``Quality
is a bigger predictor of safety than weight.''
Ross and Wenzel's research is believed to be the first to assess
fatalities among both drivers of various vehicles and the people they
collide with. It comes amid a growing backlash against SUVs and other
light trucks, among the most popular yet polarizing of consumer
Flying off dealers' lots, light trucks now account for more than
half of vehicle sales and are responsible for a steady decline in fuel
economy and growing dependence on foreign oil. Many consumers consider
the gas-slurping vehicles to be safer than cars. That, in turn, has
relieved pressure on automakers to produce more fuel-efficient
Riding high behind the wheel of her silver Expedition, Angie Garcia
of Sylmar said the SUV looks great and provides a sense of security she
would not have in a car. ``I definitely feel it's safer . . .no
questions about it,'' Garcia said.
Feeling outgunned in a vehicular version of the arms race, other
drivers have simply resigned themselves to SUVs.
``I was getting mowed down by the larger SUVs and trucks,'' said
Jennifer Mulcahy of Simi Valley, who dumped her small car in favor of a
Nissan Xterra. ``It just felt intimidating . . .It was survival of the
Despite such sentiments, Wenzel and Ross say, SUVs and pickups on
average provide less protection for their drivers than most large or
even mid-size cars.
A primary reason: Unlike cars, which tend to slide sideways when
they go out of control, SUVs and pickups, with their high center of
gravity, are more likely to flip over. That's important because
rollovers are the most lethal accident type, accounting for only about
3 percent of wrecks but 30 percent of deaths to vehicle occupants.
Originally published last March, Wenzel and Ross' little-noticed
study assigned a ``combined risk'' number to each vehicle--defined as
the fatality rate for drivers of the model plus the death rate for
drivers they crash into. The study used the Fatality Analysis Reporting
System, a federal database, to compute death rates for drivers of 1995
through 1999 model-year vehicles. Their research was funded by the
Energy Foundation, which includes the Pew Charitable Trusts, the
MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
At the request of The Times, Wenzel and Ross updated the analysis
for model years 1997 to 2001.
Although they did not dispute the numbers, other experts said they
may not tell the whole story.
In ``all the studies we have done . . .weight has a very
substantial protective effect,'' said Priya Prasad, a senior technical
fellow for safety at Ford Motor Co. ``Heavier is better, especially
when you get into two-way accidents.''
Wenzel and Ross acknowledged that driver-related factors could
account for some differences in risks of various models. For example,
if a certain vehicle attracts drivers who tend to wear seat belts, obey
speed limits and get into fewer accidents, that car or truck could
appear to be safer than it really is.
But they said driver characteristics couldn't account for their
most important finding--that light trucks' reputation for safety is
overblown and that their combined risks are greater than those of most
Specifically, their data show that:
Despite giving up considerable size and weight, most mid-
size and large cars are as good as or better than the average
SUV at protecting their own drivers, and much more protective
of their drivers than the average pickup.
Particularly dangerous to other motorists in two-vehicle
wrecks, SUVs have higher combined risks than mid-size and large
cars. Their combined risks are similar to those for compacts
The safest compacts and subcompacts--the Volkswagen Jetta,
the Mazda 626, the Subaru Legacy and the Nissan Altima--have
driver death rates as low as or lower than that of the average
SUV. Still, compacts and subcompacts have higher driver death
rates than SUVs overall. The reason: The most unsafe small cars
have extremely high driver fatality rates, two to three times
worse than the best cars in the group.
Minivans, and luxury import cars with their advanced safety
features, have lower driver death rates than all other vehicle
types. Minivans, like SUVs and pickups, are considered light
trucks but are not as top-heavy and therefore are less
susceptible to deadly rollovers. Along with design differences,
minivans often are used to transport children, perhaps leading
people to drive more conservatively.
Driver death rates for pickups are higher than for all other
vehicle types, except for sports cars. The risks are markedly
higher than for large and mid-size cars, minivans and SUVs;
somewhat higher than for compacts; and similar to those for
subcompact cars. Below-average use of seat belts by pickup
drivers may be a contributing factor.
Pickups also are more lethal to other drivers than are SUVs,
minivans or any class of cars. Their combined risk is about
twice that of large and mid-size cars and about 50 percent
higher than that of SUVs, compacts and subcompacts.
In all classes of cars, Japanese and European models did
better on average than their American counterparts, especially
in protecting their own drivers. This was particularly striking
among compacts and subcompacts. The six safest models (the
Jetta, the Altima, the Legacy, the 626, the Honda Civic and the
Toyota Corolla) bear Japanese or European nameplates. By
contrast, American cars (the Pontiac Sunfire, the Dodge Neon,
the Chevrolet Cavalier, the Pontiac Grand Am) had the highest
driver death rates in those categories.
The Ross-Wenzel study has emerged at a time of growing concern
about the social costs of SUVs, which have long been attacked as
harmful to the environment and U.S. energy goals.
Coining the slogan ``What would Jesus drive?'' a religious group
calling itself the Evangelical Environmental Network launched an ad
campaign seeking to shame drivers out of their SUVs. The Detroit
Project, spearheaded by columnist Arianna Huffington, has run its own
ads linking the gas-guzzling vehicles to the funding of terrorists.
More recently, questions have been raised about the safety of SUVs.
For instance, an article in the December issue of the Boston University
Law Review brands SUVs as ``probably the most dangerous products (other
than tobacco and alcohol) in widespread use in the United States.''
No expert contends that, all other things being equal, heavier
vehicles aren't safer for their passengers than are light ones.
``If you put the same technology and the same design concepts into
the small vehicle and the large vehicle, the large vehicle is going to
protect its occupants better,'' said Adrian Lund, chief operating
officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Still, Lund acknowledged, at some point that weight becomes a
negative in the total equation--killing a larger number of other
motorists than are saved in the heavier vehicles. According to Lund,
this threshold is crossed at roughly 4,000 pounds, a little less than
the weight of a Ford Explorer or other small to mid-size SUVs.
With this idea in mind, Wenzel and Ross say, the goal should be to
make the biggest models more compatible in size and weight with the
rest of the fleet.
Meanwhile, prompting great concern in the auto industry, the chief
of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has taken
aim at SUVs, saying they pose unacceptable risks to their own
passengers as well as to other drivers.
Addressing a gathering of industry executives in Detroit last
month, Jeffrey W. Runge said he had appointed a panel of NHTSA
officials to consider new safety regulations for SUVs--though it's
clear that it would take years for such rules to be adopted.
Responding to Runge's blast, General Motors Corp. said that SUVs
``have contributed to the dramatic decline in the nation's fatality
rate over the last decade.''
In fact, there have been modest declines in fatality rates--as
measured by deaths per total vehicles and vehicle miles traveled. But
the death toll has been stuck at about 42,000 a year--despite wider use
of seat belts, stricter vehicle safety standards and better automotive
One reason for this, experts say, is that safety advances have been
partly negated by a growing mismatch in size between light trucks and
cars. When light trucks collide with cars, the high-riding vehicles can
override bumpers and door sills and strike occupants in the chest or
Faced with Runge's threat of new regulations, the Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers said last week in a joint letter with the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that the organizations would
work together to make SUVs safer.
Some manufacturers already have begun taking steps to reduce the
danger to cars posed by certain light-truck models.
For example, Ford and GM have lowered bumper heights on some models
to reduce the risk of override. And in response to safety and fuel
efficiency concerns, manufacturers are increasingly pushing
``crossover'' models--smaller, more car-like SUVs that inflict less
damage in collisions.
The Chairman. Next time bring bigger printed boards,
The Chairman. At my age, it is very difficult to----
Ms. Claybrook. We do not have as much money as everyone
else does, Senator.
Ms. Claybrook. But anyway, we will. We will do it bigger.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Ms. Claybrook. But I would also like to submit a public
opinion poll conducted by Harris for the Advocates for Highway
and Auto Safety that shows the public wants safer vehicles, and
they want them safe on both counts, not only for themselves,
but also for others on the highway.
I would also like to just mention this wonderful book
called ``High and Mighty.'' I do not know whether you have had
a chance to----
The Chairman. Yes, I have seen it.
Ms. Claybrook.--look at it----
The Chairman. Yes.
Ms. Claybrook.--by Keith Bradsher, from the New York Times.
Excellent book that really does lay out many of these issues.
So SUVs can be made safer. We are not opposed to SUVs. We
want to see the public have a wide variety of choices, as
Senator Allen said. But the public does not have access to
information when they go into the car dealership to determine
whether or not their car is overly--that SUV is overly
aggressive, whether it is prone to roll over. They can look on
the NHTSA Web site, but most people do not know to do that. And
so it is like a pig in the poke for the consumer in the
marketplace. And people care deeply about safety, as the
industry has finally admitted after many years of saying it was
The Chairman. Go ahead, Mr. Pittle.
Mr. Pittle. Yeah, I hate to keep doing this, because you
think I have just got one note to play, but I am just reading
the latest issue of Consumer Report. And it is----
Mr. Pittle.--it is quite a fine magazine--I was supposed to
try to sell this----
The Chairman. You can go on the Web site to find out how
you subscribe to it.
Mr. Pittle. It is the April issue, and it really does not
go on the newsstand until March the 10th, but you are going to
see an advance copy. And I would like to submit it for the
record, because in it we have--this is the 50th year of our
testing cars, and there is a--they have a special article in it
about which cars are safer. And we try to evaluate, in rated
fashion, objectively, combining crash tests from both IHS and
NHTSA, and also our own performance tests on braking and
handling and all the other things we think contribute to how
well you can avoid an accident. There are cars that literally
do better in these tests than others. You cannot guarantee,
because you do not know who is going to be driving and under
what conditions, et cetera. But you can pick--you can start off
with a safer vehicle.
And on page 81, just for the record, for Senator Snowe, we
calculate--I have to correct an earlier statement--the maximum
load capacity for a vehicle is not available to the consumer.
What they tell you is the gross vehicle weight, how much does
the entire thing weigh when it is fully loaded. That is their
design criteria. You would have to take it to some station and
weigh it empty, and then you would know how much you can put in
Well, we weigh them all empty. That is what we do. And then
we list how much you can put in the vehicle in order to live
within the designed recommendations of the manufacturer. So
when you see a vehicle that says, as well tell you, the maximum
load is 800, 900 pounds, by the time you put four or five
people in it, you cannot put any luggage in it. And you look at
this big cavernous back of the vehicle and you find yourself
saying, ``Why can I not put stuff in there?'' Well, get the
people out, put the stuff in, but you cannot have both.
Mr. Pittle. And we do stress over and over again not to put
loads on the roof, because that does raise--and that is a
vehicle that people think of as going on vacation, going on
vacation and loading the top with their family stuff. That is a
mistake. That raises the center of gravity and increases the
Ms. Claybrook. That would be a perfect example for a
consumer information rule out of the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, to have a label that is on every single
vehicle that says how much cargo, including people, in weight
you can put into this vehicle. And that is a very simple one.
It is mathematical calculation. They could do it tomorrow.
Senator I would like to just mention one thing. This issue
of the driver responsibility? In terms of SUV drivers, the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies show
that in rollover crashes, that SUV drivers are driving slower
speeds, they are drinking less, and they are wearing their
belts as much as car drivers. So I think that the emphasis on
getting people to behave better is not going to solve our
problem. Absolutely we favor that. We have fought for .08 and
all the rest. But the vehicle itself needs to be redesigned.
The Chairman. Go ahead.
Mr. Pittle. One last thought. I did not put this in the
speech, but for nine years I was a commissioner at the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, from 1973 to 1982. And for my entire
professional engineering life, for more than 30 years, I have
spent either developing standards, assessing standards, editing
standards, trying to change standards, and the difference
between a mandatory standard and a voluntary standard is not so
simple, and you have to assess the environment.
If the industry, any industry, and I do not care which one
it is, spends its time telling you there is not a problem, but
if there is one they are going to work on it, you have to
question what is the motivation and how hard are they going to
push to get an adequate result?
You know, there are a lot of--there are hundreds and
hundreds of voluntary standards that have served this country
well, both in the automotive industry, appliance industry,
across the board. And they are not, per se, bad. They are good.
But you have to look at each on a case-by-case basis.
This is not a situation, from my experience, a long
experience, that is conducive to getting the kind of change
that is needed. What is needed is for NHTSA to take
responsibility, set the pace, set the tone, get an answer.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Ms. Cischke and Mr. Lange and Mr. Tinto, before I ask
specific questions, I know you would like to respond to some of
the statements that have just been made, and we would be glad
to hear from you, beginning with you, Ms. Cischke.
Ms. Cischke. Yes. I would like to comment on the----
The Chairman. By the way, in your remarks would you include
your views on this labeling of how much cargo can be put into
an SUV? Please go ahead.
Ms. Cischke. Right. Well, I will start with the labeling.
We would support giving consumers information regarding what
loads they could carry in SUVs. It is true, it is very
confusing and it is something that would be helpful to the
consumers. And I think that is part of the TREAD Act. One of
the requirements that NHTSA's looking on is SUV labeling for
load reserve. And so that is something that we think would be a
But I would like to talk about roof crush a bit, because I
think there is some misunderstanding of how injuries really
occur. Intuitively, you would think that injuries occur when
the roof crushes in and hits the occupant. But the data does
not show that. In fact, what it shows is in the first few
milliseconds of the crash when the vehicle is rolling in a
rollover accidents the occupant is actually striking the roof,
and so the injury occurs as his head is basically contacting
the ground with the roof being in the way, not the roof coming
in on the occupant.
And what is important to note on that is that if you look
at systems where you want to cinch down the seatbelt, like the
pretensioners, they are only going to be effective if occupants
are wearing their safety belts. And we can make roofs stronger,
but in the case where people are not wearing their safety belt,
it probably will not be effective.
And one of the things that Volvo has on the XC90 is a bore-
on roof, but it also has, in combination, pretensioners that
will cinch down the belts. And Volvo felt confident in offering
these combined safety systems, because they have such high
seatbelt use in their vehicles. And we will be able to monitor
the actual real-world safety performance as this vehicle become
available on the road.
But I just wanted to clarify, because there is a
misunderstanding that roof crush itself is causing neck and
possibly fatal injuries.
The Chairman. Would you comment on the--before we move to
Mr. Lange--the assurance that all interested parties would play
a role in the development of voluntary standards?
Ms. Cischke. I think voluntary standards have been very
effective. It allows us to get implementation ahead of a rule
that would require four years for NHTSA to be able to take
action on. A good example of that is the side airbag voluntary
standard that the industry worked on for occupant protection.
We agreed on injury criteria for occupants that would give us a
guideline in terms of what to do for side airbags, and it was
very effective, and we were able to that very quickly. We have
been working with NHTSA----
The Chairman. My question was, how do you ensure that all
Ms. Cischke. Participate?
The Chairman.--participate? Yes.
Ms. Cischke. The meetings can be open to allow other
participation. The very first meeting was a kickoff with the
Insurance Institute and NHTSA to define possible research
programs and what we could do to gather information. And it is
certainly appropriate for others to participate in that, and we
will be happy to have those meetings more open to allow other
The Chairman. Mr. Lange?
Mr. Lange. Yes, sir. Thank you, Senator McCain.
Let me just begin by addressing the question that you, I
think rightly, have focused on here, that is, is rollover more
important, or is compatibility more important? I think it is
important to understand that, in our view, the two issues are
not mutually exclusive. They are both significantly important.
And work is now ongoing, has been ongoing, and will continue on
both areas of motor vehicle safety.
There is a happy coincidence between the benefits that can
be gained vis-a-vis compatibility by the installation of side
curtain airbags and the benefits that can be gained vis-a-vis
rollover with the application of rollover-sensitive side-impact
airbags, as well, or side curtain airbags. We believe that it
is important to move forward on all of those aspects.
With respect to the question of the relative balance
between the value of industry or voluntary standards as
compared to government standards or regulations, I think that
our country has managed that balance relatively well. There
clearly is a role for government regulation to set just what
Dr. Runge suggested, a base standard of performance for those
areas that are extremely important to motor vehicle safety. We
think that is incredibly important.
But--and the caveat is an important one--we know that
consumers demand from each manufacturer sitting here and from
each manufacturer that sells products in the United States not
represented here a far greater involvement in the safety
mechanism than simply meeting government standards.
The comment that one of the witnesses made here today, that
it is the objective of the company to exceed government
standards, applies to all of us everywhere. And you see that
reflected in the nature of the safety contenting that all three
manufacturers provide that are represented here today. Ford
tries to beat GM, GM tries to beat Ford and Toyota, and so on.
We each are working very, very hard to capture each and every
incremental sale. Safety is important to consumers, and that is
why we do what we do in addition to the fact that safety is
important to us. The safety to our consumers is at the core of
many, many decisions we make every single day by thousands of
The Chairman. How do you ensure that outside parties are
involved in the formulation of voluntary standards?
Mr. Lange. As Ms. Cischke has already suggested, I would be
pleased to take back a suggestion to the technical working
group for the potential to expand participation. With respect
to the side impact airbag work that was done, at the conclusion
of that work, the industry held an open meeting to which Public
Citizen and Center for Auto Safety had been invited. They chose
not to attend.
The Chairman. Well, maybe it is because they thought they
were in on the landing and not on the takeoff.
Mr. Lange. Well, I think that is--they may have felt that,
but I do not think that is an appropriate way to approach that
particular kind of problem.
The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Lange.
Mr. Tinto. Thank you, Senator.
I can speak to the voluntary standard question if you
would. I would first note----
The Chairman. And any other comments you have.
Mr. Tinto. Okay, thank you.
I would first note that Congress has encouraged Federal
agencies to consider whether voluntary consensus standards are
appropriate to meet Federal policy objectives before developing
new regulations. At the risk of being repetitive, our own
experience with the Voluntary Side Airbag Out-of-Position
Working Group, as well as the Driver Distraction Guideline
Working Group, was that--kind of proved that wisdom in that
this policy was----
The Chairman. Do you not think this is a much larger issue
Mr. Tinto. Pardon me?
The Chairman. Do you not think this is a much larger issue
Mr. Tinto. Well, in the side airbag issue, the out-of-
position issue, we had a risk of injury to children which was,
at the time, certainly one of the most important issues we were
facing with the frontal airbags and the side airbags. So we
felt that--I would think it would be on the same order of
We were able to get these standards out much faster than if
we had gone through rulemaking. And in fact, I noted in my
testimony that, speaking for Toyota, we were able to adopt all
of those standards, across the board, with about a year and a
half, two years for implementation. So with a rulemaking
process and a phase-in process, you would have seen that come
into the fleet a lot later.
As Mr. Lange pointed out, this is an open process, in that
we first get the experts together who understand the
particulars about vehicle design and about technology and
manufacturing. They put together a draft, and then that draft
is circulated to outside interested parties for comment,
including NHTSA, including IHS, including the NGOs. And we look
and encourage their participation in that. And then we take
that document, incorporate where appropriate, and come to a
final draft document. NHTSA was very involved in that process.
And when NHTSA has the document, obviously it is a public
I would also point out that it is somewhat similar to
NHTSA's process, in that NHTSA's folks get together, they think
about what needs to be addressed, they put out a notice, we
comment on that notice, and then NHTSA goes to its internal
deliberations, which we are not privy to. And we are welcome to
come in and explain what we know about the subject, but NHTSA
does not share with us what they are working on, their internal
deliberations, until a notice comes out. And at that point, we
are free to comment, and they make changes to the draft.
I guess, finally, I would say that I heard some comments
about there is really no--we do not know if you are going to
adopt these standards or not. I know in the voluntary side
airbag work, NHTSA is looking to put that information into its
``Buying a Safer Car'' brochure. And that is going to be added.
And in addition, we have a bond with our customers. They
buy our vehicles based on faith in our products, and I believe
our reputation speaks for itself. So we would encourage this
process and believe it is the fastest way to get safety
improvements into the field.
Mr. O'Neill. Mr. Chairman----
The Chairman. Thank you, I would like the witnesses to make
a final comment on what has been discussed.
Mr. O'Neill, go ahead.
Mr. O'Neill. Yes, I would just like to make a point on the
voluntary standards or voluntary initiatives. The Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety, my organization, played a key
role in the working group that set the voluntary standards for
out-of-position risks for side impact airbags. We anticipate
playing a key role in the issues involving compatibility, and
we do so recognizing that our credibility is at risk. We are
not involved in these things to provide the manufacturers a fig
leaf to hide behind. If we see that these initiatives are not
moving forward at very rapid pace, we will not be part of it.
The one big advantage of the voluntary approach, which does
not preclude standards coming at some later time, is that it
can be a much, much faster process than the rulemaking process.
We can get, I believe, inflatable curtains and other head-
protection systems in cars and SUVs much faster through this
voluntary initiative than we can get them in through
rulemaking. That does not, however, mean that eventually we
cannot have a rule that, in effect, mandates them. But our
objective at the institute is to get these technologies and
these improvements in vehicles as fast as possible. That is why
we are putting our credibility on the line in involving
ourselves in these activities.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think that you said it well. When Dr. Martinez asked the
industry to do the side curtain out-of-position occupant study,
he asked that the consumer groups be included. We were not
included. We were told we could not participate in the early
part of this discussion, that we would be given a draft to
review and that would be our role.
And just recently there was a meeting, I believe, this past
week, of this group, and one consumer group was represented and
then told to leave at the end of a certain point in time so
that the industry could go into its own discussions.
The key issue that I would like to mention, though, is that
this does not mean that side curtain airbags are being put in
cars. In fact, I would like to submit for the record a news
article from April 9, 2002, where General Motors included
those, as well as other safety provisions that are not
mandated, as part of their $1.5 billion savings plan that they
were removing, because these are things that they were putting
in voluntarily, and now there were going to remove them.
I do not know the end result of all--whether they all were
removed, but surely side impact air curtains are not mandated.
What this voluntary group was doing was just designing a test
for whether or not out-of-position occupants were going to be
Voluntary standards have played an important role in our
society, but most of the time they have been for very narrowly
designed issues that require compatibility among industry, and
there were no government bodies to do this. But where you have
a major, huge issue like this and lives are being lost
unnecessarily, I think that that is where there is a
requirement for Federal standards.
I would like also to mention, on the issue of roof crush,
that if you look at--and there is a lawyer named Donald Slovik
who has done this--at where people have head injury, and you
look at the vehicle, it is where the roof crushed in. And so
while I agree that when you have pretension belts, if belts are
not being used, it is not going to do any good, the fact is
that those people who do wear belts should be better protected.
And hopefully more people will wear belts.
I also believe that there is a inaccurate collection of
data on who is wearing belts, because belts sometimes loosen up
in the rollover, and then people are partially ejected, and
police are the ones who report this. They see someone partially
ejected, they may assume that someone did not have the belt on
to begin with. So I think the numbers are very low. How could
you have 78 percent use of belts on the highway and a very
small percent, in the 30s, I guess, 30-some percent, in
rollover crashes? People do not take their belts off if they
are about to go into a rollover. So I believe that there is
inadequacy in the data. But that does not also mean that we
should not have a pretension to belts and a requirement for
And then the last thing I would like to say is that I agree
with Brian O'Neill that it is very useful to have the industry
do some initial work in this area, but I believe that the
independent decision-making process with the public
participation of consumers and industry and researchers and
people who are not included in the little enclave that met the
other day--there are some fabulous engineers and researchers
who are excluded from that and who do not have time to sit
through endless meetings, but can participate in the government
rulemaking process--that, I believe, should be the process that
is followed for these critical safety features.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Mr. Pittle. Yes. But when you read back over this record, I
predict that you will see various elements in which we are
talking about how to approach this problem and trying to reduce
the death rate by improving the seatbelt usage, which gets a
checkmark certainly by us, by side curtain airbags, which would
get--but you do not see any effort, any discussion, about how
do we get these aggressive vehicles less aggressive.
I want to go back to that playground analogy that somebody
brought up. We are padding the victims. We are not trying to
tame the bully.
Now, I do not want to overstate this, but the fact is, as
long--and we are not trying to say let us get the impact
structures more to line up, let us get that down, let us get
the aggressivity out of it. That is not the focus. So I am
saying, and this is why I am sounding like a broken record,
this does not feel to me like the place to rely on voluntary
When people agree to do things because they want to do
things, they are willing to do things, that is great. Well, how
do you get people to make adjustments to meet a higher goal
that they are unwilling, at present, to adjust? That is why I
think you need--this is the time--this is the time that Dr.
Runge should reach to his statute and pull out the authority
you gave him and use it.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Ms. Cischke. I would like to just conclude by saying that
we believe that SUVs are very safe vehicles, and we are data
driven, and the data does show that in all types of crashes,
including self-protections, SUVs are very effective.
We know our customers are savvy. They know what they want
and they need. Consumer data helps them make the decision, and
certainly what NHTSA does and NCAP testing and what the
Insurance Institute does with their ratings help consumers make
those choices and help pull demand for safety features, which
we think is important.
We have advanced the state-of-the-art when it comes to
safety and technology for rollover protection and prevention,
such as electronic stability control and side curtain bags, and
also in compatibility where we have lowered front rails and
added bumper beams. And we will continue to do things to
improve rollover and compatibility issues, but we do want to
remind consumers that they can dramatically improve their
safety by wearing their safety belts, and that is the most
important safety device in the vehicle.
The Chairman. A device that you originally opposed.
Ms. Cischke. Not me, personally.
The Chairman. No, your industry originally opposed.
Go ahead, Mr. Lange.
Mr. Lange. Thank you, Senator McCain. I do not want to take
up much of you time, so I will be very brief.
With respect to GM's installation of side impact airbags,
in the cost reduction efforts we have undertaken in the last
several years, we have not removed side impact airbags from our
fleet portfolio. And so far as I can tell, I believe GM is the
first manufacturer that has engineered every one of our side
impact airbags to be child safe according to the industry
standard. We have tested every car and truck in which we
install them, and they meet those standards.
Secondly and importantly, with respect to the issue of
compatibility, there are many technical reasons why the analogy
that Mr. Pittle has used concerning a schoolyard bully is not
apt. They are too numerous to go into here in the time that we
have available, and I think also they are quite deep in terms
of technical understanding.
I want to go back, very briefly, to a point that Dr. Runge
made, ``It is the car manufacturers that know how to build cars
and trucks.'' And the notion that is, I think, outdated by at
least decades that car manufacturers are not interested in the
safety of everyone of our consumers is simply wrong.
When I and the people who work for me and the people whom
we deal with come to work every day, our objective is, what can
I do today to make cars and trucks safer, not what can I do
today to make them less safe?
The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Lange, and I certainly accept
that and also understand how critical what you do is and the
other witnesses. It is important to our economy as well as to
the American way of life.
Mr. Tinto. I will be even more brief than Mr. Lange.
I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity
here today. And I just want to assure you that our engineers
work every day to innovate and improve our vehicles, the way
they are designed, and how they are driven. We know that safety
sells, and we are doing everything we can to make the best
vehicle we possibly can, because we do know that our wives and
children drive our vehicles.
The Chairman. Thank you very much.
I thank the witnesses. This hearing is adjourned. It has
been very helpful. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 11:55 a.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Prepared Statement of Hon. Ernest F. Hollings,
U.S. Senator from South Carolina
Three years ago Americans started buying more sport utility
vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks than regular passenger cars--and the
percentage has increased each year since. There are now 76 million SUVs
and light trucks on the road, or about 35 percent of all registered
vehicles in the United States.
This change in the makeup of America's driving fleet demands that
we look at the safety ramifications. Not only do these larger vehicles
pose a risk to passengers in regular cars, the rollover risk to SUV
occupants is too high. While rollover crashes in 2001 represented only
3 percent of all auto collisions, they accounted for 32 percent of all
passenger vehicle occupant deaths.
Some automakers have taken the lead in building SUVs that are less
prone to rollover and that better interact with other cars during a
collision. But we are still waiting for the rest of the industry to
match those safety improvements. If the entire industry does not take
the initiative to build safer SUVs, then the public will rely on us to
force the issue in order to protect America's families.
Dr. Runge has been a strong, articulate voice in this debate. While
Dr. Runge is likely giving some in the Administration a little heart
burn, I applaud the courage he has shown in speaking out on this
important safety issue.
Automakers have the ability to produce safe and profitable SUVs. I
look forward to hearing the ideas that will lead us toward that goal.
Prepared Statement of Hon. John F. Kerry,
U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
The safety of SUVs is an important issue for the millions of
American families that travel not only in these vehicles but on the
road next to these vehicles each day. I commend our Chairman, Senator
McCain, for holding today's hearing. I believe the cars and SUVs
Americans drive must be as safe as we can possibly make them.
We know that today there are 76 million SUVs and light trucks on
the road. But what we don't fully comprehend are the safety
implications of those vehicles.
Recent crash data shows that passengers inside SUVs may be much
more vulnerable to injury and death than conventional wisdom has held.
As this Committee has heard from safety advocates, engineers and at
least one automaker at previous hearings, being big does not
necessarily make a vehicle safer. And now the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration is stepping forward to express its concern with
data showing that SUVs are three times as likely as cars to kill their
occupants in a rollover accident because of the height and the rigidity
of their frames.
At the same time, the height, weight and rigidity in SUVs appears
to be contributing to the rising number and severity of injuries to
passengers in cars hit by SUVs. According to the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety, during fatal front-to-side crashes between two
cars, an occupant death is 7 times as likely to occur in the struck car
as the striking car. But when the striking vehicle is a pickup truck or
SUV, an occupant death is 26 times more likely to occur in the side-
So whether you are driving a passenger vehicle or an SUV, finding
solutions to these safety concerns is imperative. I am encouraged by
the ongoing dialog between the auto industry, the NHTSA and the
insurance industry to develop safety standards for SUVs and light
trucks to address these issues, but I remain highly skeptical that a
voluntary program is going to get the job done.
To that end, I appreciate the Chairman's commitment to investigate
SUV safety, my guess is that this is not the last time we will discuss
this matter. As members of the Commerce Committee, I believe we have an
obligation to see that measures are taken both in the short-term and
the long-term in order to provide the safer vehicles American families
Prepared Statement of Hon. Maria Cantwell,
U.S. Senator from Washington
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing today on Sport
Utility Vehicle safety, and for allowing me to add my concerns to a
debate that affects the health and safety of the millions of Americans
traveling our streets and highways every day.
Automobile safety has come quite a ways since the Model T was the
car of choice. The chrome and steel of cars and trucks has been molded
and shaped into new designs to make driving a more pleasurable and
safer experience. Congress has traditionally taken a lead in ensuring
the safety of the American public on the motoring highway, using data
and research to drive our decisions.
When tests showed that seat belts would increase passenger safety
in a collision, we mandated seatbelts be standard equipment on all
vehicles. When the benefits of airbags were demonstrated in a head-on
collisions, we required airbags be used in vehicle design. When shown
the data, we've mandated better designs for child safety seats and have
upgraded tire standards, all in an effort to make driving safer. Today,
we are presented with more data that demands we take another look at
vehicle safety, this time as it relates to SUV's.
One need only take a look down any American street to see how our
nation's driving fleet has changed. SUV's now account for more than
one-third of all registered vehicles in the United States and their
popularity shows no signs of slowing. SUV's had previously been
considered the preference for those who needed the cargo and towing
capacity. However, the safe feeling that many drivers experience behind
the wheel of an SUV that is bigger and sits higher has made them a
must-have for families looking for a comfortable and stylish way to
transport children, groceries and soccer balls.
My home state of Washington illustrates the growth in the SUV
market. One out of every seven passenger cars on the road in Washington
is an SUV. In 1997, there was one SUV for every 15 Washingtonians;
today, that figure is one for every eight people. Out of all fatal
crashes that occurred in Washington state in 2000, 37 percent involved
SUV's, light trucks and vans. The popularity of SUV's, particularly
among families, makes SUV safety a primary concern for me.
And, the data is telling us that SUV's are not any safer than
traditional passenger cars. In fact, the risks may be greater because
of the false sense of security the larger, heavier and higher off the
ground SUV provides. Government and insurance industry studies show
that SUV's are almost three times more likely to rollover than a
regular passenger car. And, while rollovers make up only 3 percent of
all collisions, they account for 32 percent of all passenger deaths.
These statistics are not acceptable.
With its higher bumpers and more rigid frame, SUV's also are
contributing to the death and injury rate in car collisions. For the
driver of a passenger car, colliding with an SUV is similar to hitting
a brick wall--the car crumples and absorbs much of the shock of impact
while the SUV's rigid frame provides little give. An insurance industry
study found that in front-to-side crashes between two cars, an occupant
of the struck car is seven times as likely to die as an occupant in the
striking car. When the striking vehicle is an SUV or light truck, death
in the passenger car is 26 times more likely. Again, these statistics
are simply not acceptable.
Some would have us believe that much of the blame for these
increased risks rests with careless or inattentive drivers but the data
does not bear that out. Injury and fatality statistics related to car
crashes have held steady in recent years, despite an ever increasing
number of cars on the road. If anything, that fact proves that safety
efforts to increase seat belt use and improve drivers' skills are
paying off. Seat belt use is up and drunk driving is down. Drivers are
doing their part. Now it is time for the industry to do its part and
improve the design of popular SUV's.
In the past, mandates from Congress have drawn harsh criticism from
the automobile industry. Job losses, manufacturing cutbacks and cuts to
profits are all cited as reasons not to force SUV redesigns. Similar
arguments were raised when Congress mandated seatbelts, air bags and
greater fuel efficiency, and yet the industry continues to grow. While
some SUV manufacturers are taking some initiative to address these
safety issues, more aggressive design changes are needed to make SUV's
safer, both for those who drive them and those who drive alongside
First, NHTSA must continue to improve upon its rollover resistance
rating to give consumers better information about the safety of SUV's.
Several surveys show that consumers want this information and past
experience has demonstrated that poor ratings are a stronger motivator
for manufacturers to improve a design. Such a standard would also
encourage manufacturers to utilize new technologies that give SUV
driver's a helping hand in stabilizing the vehicle and avoiding a
Second, NHTSA must continue its efforts to look at ways to mitigate
the inequities between passenger cars and. SUV's. One approach would be
the standard use of side and head airbags in passenger cars to protect
occupants in case of a collision with a larger and heavier SUV. Similar
airbag requirements of SUV's would lessen the risk of death in a
rollover accident. The recent introduction of smaller-sized SUV's also
provide a good model of how to give drivers the size, space and luxury
of an SUV with fewer safety risks than come with a full-size SUV.
Finally, information about safety risks must be easily available to
consumers. Safety is cited as a top consideration when purchasing a new
car, and individuals and families need the best information possible to
select a vehicle that fits their lifestyle and protects them. This
Committee and this Congress have a responsibility to make sure that
American consumers have that information.
I thank the Chairman and look forward to working with him and this
Committee on legislation to achieve these important goals.
Prepared Statement of the Association of International Automobile
AIAM appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement with
regard to the issue of the safety of sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
AIAM members include American Honda Motor Co., American Suzuki Motor
Corp., Aston Martin Lagonda of North America, Inc., Ferrari North
America, Inc., Hyundai Motor America, Isuzu Motors America, Inc., Kia
Motors America, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., Nissan North
America, Peugeot Motors of America, Saab Cars USA, Renault, SA, Subaru
of America, and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. AIAM also represents
original equipment suppliers and other automotive-related trade
associations. AIAM members have invested over $26 billion in production
and distribution capacity in the United States, creating tens of
thousands of highly-skilled, high-wage jobs across the country in
manufacturing, supplier industries, ports, distribution centers,
headquarters, R&D centers, and automobile dealerships. Our member
companies produce a variety of SUV models and components for SUVs.
SUVs have achieved broad public acceptance in the United States due
to their flexible capabilities. They are used for a broad range of
purposes, from serving as principal family vehicles to commercial use.
Vehicles of this class typically provide high ground clearance and
enhanced traction features such as four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive,
which facilitate driving in bad weather, on unimproved roads, or in
off-road environments. The vehicles have substantial cargo-carrying
capacity, which is valued by purchasers of the vehicles in performing
their daily tasks.
The SUV class encompasses a broad range of vehicles, and we urge
the Committee to resist considering the vehicles as a homogeneous set.
SUVs originated as enclosed versions of pickup trucks, based on a
common truck frame. However, many recently designed SUVs are of unibody
construction, frequently sharing major structural elements with
passenger car lines. These differences in construction are significant,
and cause SUVs to have differing handling characteristics from each
other and from passenger cars. The safety performance and features of
vehicles in the class also vary. For these reasons, one should be
cautious in ``painting'' these vehicles with a broad brush in
describing their performance characteristics.
Nevertheless, when the SUV category is considered as a whole,
accident data demonstrates that SUVs are as safe as passenger cars.
However, due in part to their size, different handling characteristics,
and high ground clearance, SUVs as a class perform differently than
passenger cars with respect to certain crash modes. In particular, SUVs
tend to have a higher rollover rate, while performing better than
passenger cars in other crash modes. In crashes involving SUVs and
passenger cars, accident data shows that the passenger cars tend to
sustain greater damage and their occupants greater injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has undertaken a
variety of initiatives to address the issues of vehicle rollover and
crash compatibility. Under NHTSA's Consumer Information Regulations,
the agency has required vehicle manufacturers to install a warning
label on some SUVs to alert drivers to the different handling
characteristics of these vehicles and urge drivers to avoid making
sharp turns at high speed. The labels also point out the importance of
wearing seat belts. Seat belt use is a critical factor in the level of
injuries that are incurred in rollovers, and government and industry
efforts to increase seat belt use rates are of great importance in
improving occupant safety.
The agency has implemented another consumer information program to
provide data on the relative rollover propensity of vehicles. Data
based on a static calculation involving the vehicle's center of gravity
height and track width is now provided, and the agency is in the
process of developing dynamic tests to provide data that reflects
differences in handling, suspension features, and stability control
technology that are not reflected in the static-based data. AIAM
strongly supports the enhancement of the rollover consumer information
program to include dynamic test data, and we have participated in the
agency process for developing this data.
NHTSA recently established an ``Integrated Project Team'' to
consider a series of new initiatives to address the rollover concern.
The recommendations of this Team are expected to be made public this
spring, and may include recommendations for enhancements to several
safety standards in the crashworthiness and crash avoidance areas as
well as initiatives to promote improved highway design and safer driver
behavior. AIAM intends to work cooperatively with the agency in
considering these initiatives when they are made public, and we expect
to offer our recommendations to the agency as well.
In the vehicle compatibility area, the safety of SUVs must be
viewed within the context of the entire vehicle fleet. Consideration
should be given both to reducing the aggressiveness of vehicles when
striking another vehicle and to improving the occupant protection of
vehicles when being struck. NHTSA researchers are working to identify
methods to enhance the safety of occupants of all vehicles in crashes.
NHTSA has established an Integrated Project Team in this area, as well.
Our member companies also have active programs to address this issue.
AIAM members are investigating a variety of designs and features to
enhance occupant protection for all vehicles. Several AIAM members are
also participating in the recently announced joint program involving
some vehicle manufacturers and the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety to develop counter-measures to address the crash compatibility
concern. We urge the Committee to give these efforts a fair chance to
produce results and believe they have the potential to achieve enhanced
vehicle safety more quickly than could occur through a rulemaking
AIAM supports the efforts of the government and the industry to
improve safety in all crash modes. Therefore, we recognize the value in
pursuing enhancements in vehicle stability characteristics and
addressing the crash compatibility concern. As noted above, we intend
to continue to work as an industry and in cooperation with the
government and other organizations to achieve enhanced safety
performance in these areas.