WASHINGTON – Auto makers will have to double the crush-resistance of passenger-vehicle roofs under new rules announced by the Obama administration, but critics said the new standard was too weak to prevent many rollover deaths.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday unveiled the new rules, which dictate that roofs must be able to withstand a force equal to three times the weight of the vehicle for cars and light trucks weighing 6,000 pounds or less. Vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds must have a roof-crush resistance equal to 1.5 times their weight, the first time many trucks and heavy sport-utility vehicles will be subject to such a requirement. The rules will be phased in over five years, starting in 2012.
"Rollovers are the deadliest crashes on our highways and today's rule will help occupants survive these horrific events," Mr. LaHood said in a statement.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the main trade group representing General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and other leading car makers, said it supports the enhanced roof-strength rules. But it said "safety belt use is the most-effective device for reducing the risk" because "most injuries in rollovers are caused by either ejection or contact with the vehicle's other interior components."
Mr. LaHood agreed that seat-belt use was "the first, most important step everyone should take to protecting themselves and their families."
Safety advocates, who have been pressing for more than three decades to toughen roof-crush resistance standards, said the new rules don't go far enough and take too long to kick in.
Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a consumer group, called the standard "wholly inadequate to protect most of the people who are injured or killed by roof crush in rollover crashes." She said roughly 10,000 Americans are killed in rollover incidents each year and tens of thousands more sustain serious injuries.
Gerie Voss, director of regulatory affairs for the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, said "the new standard puts the issue in gear," but she "would have liked to see the administration go farther to protect consumers." She urged regulators to adopt roof-crush standards for buses and other commercial vehicles.