WASHINGTON — The government's automobile safety agency said Thursday that it has decided against opening a probe of the Suzuki Samurai sports-utility vehicle for an alleged tendency to roll over.
Two private safety watchdog groups petitioned the agency earlier this year to investigate the alleged propensity of the vehicle, made by the Suzuki Motor Corp., to roll over.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an arm of the Transportation Department, said it received reports of 113 roll-overs, resulting in 120 injuries and 25 fatalities, involving the Samurai.
But in denying the petitions, the agency said a high proportion of the roll-over victims were young, inexperienced drivers. Alcohol usage was evident in 50% of the accidents, it said.
"Roll-overs . . . appear to have been influenced by adverse driver and environmental factors such as high-risk driving maneuvers, drinking, low ambient light and lack of driver familiarity either of the vehicle or the road," NHTSA said in a notice due to be published in the Federal Register.
"NHTSA's decision is wrong and we will seek its reversal," said a spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, one of the petitioners. The safety agency also denied a petition by the Safety First Club of Maryland.
NHTSA agreed, however, to a request by Consumers Union, a consumer advocate group, that it consider developing a roll-over safety standard.
"We are pleased the agency is concerned about roll-over. We regret however that they have not dealt with the approximately 100,000 Samurais now in consumers' hands," said Mark Silbergeld, a spokesman for Consumers Union. "We caution consumers to avoid using the vehicle."
American Suzuki Motor Corp., the Japanese auto maker's U.S. subsidiary, said it "claimed victory in its defense of the 4-wheel-drive Suzuki Samurai."
NHTSA's decision "supports claims the Samurai is safe and should put to rest the inaccurate and misleading attacks on the vehicle," Suzuki said in Brea, Calif. It said it was pleased "that the unfounded and inaccurate accusations about the Samurai made by so-called consumer groups did not color NHTSA's judgement on this matter."
In July, Consumers Union's highly visible Consumer Reports magazine advised consumers against buying the Samurai because of the roll-over problem. It was the first time in 10 years the group declared a vehicle unacceptable.