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Agency to Launch Study of Ford Bronco II After High Rate of Roll-Over Accidents

March 16, 1989|LINDA WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

The federal government's highway safety watchdog said Wednesday that the Ford Bronco II appears to be involved in more fatal roll-over accidents than other vehicles in its class and that it will seek to determine if the vehicle itself contributes to the accidents.

The decision to do an engineering analysis of the Ford Motor Co. utility-sport vehicle grew out of a federal accident study of the Suzuki Samurai, said Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA looked at Samurai accidents after Consumer Reports magazine charged that the vehicle had basic design flaws.

Several Fatalities

However, the accident study showed that the "Ford Bronco II appears to have a higher number of single-vehicle, first event roll-overs, particularly those involving fatalities," Hurd said. The engineering analysis of the Bronco, the second of three levels of investigation conducted by NHTSA, will cover the 1984-1989 Bronco II models, the agency said.

According to a Fatal Accident Reporting System study included in the September report on the Samurai, 43 Bronco II single-vehicle roll-overs caused fatalities, or 19 of every 100,000 vehicles. There were eight Samurai fatal roll-overs, or 6 per 100,000; 13 involving the Chevrolet S10 Blazers or GMC Jimmy, or 6 per 100,000, and six fatal Jeep Cherokee roll-overs, for 2.5 per 100,000. After the accident report, NHTSA declined to investigate the Samurai.

In Detroit, a Ford spokeswoman said the involvement of the Bronco II in fatal roll-over accidents "isn't significantly" different from that of other utility vehicles. "The Bronco II is well designed and is safe. I don't think this reflects the design or engineering of the vehicle," spokeswoman Joyce Stinson said.

Stresses Safe Driving

She said fatal roll-over accidents are "strongly influenced" by the driver's age and training and whether alcohol is involved. The type of terrain the vehicle is being driven on is another factor, Stinson said, as well as whether the driver is attempting some extraordinary maneuver with the vehicle.

The utility vehicles have different handling capabilities, Stinson said, thus Ford stresses safe driving in its manuals for vehicle owners.

Hurd said NHTSA investigators will analyze roll-over accidents involving the Bronco II to determine if environment, the types of drivers or the vehicle itself might have contributed to the accidents.

In denying the petitions for an investigation of the Samurai, the agency said a high proportion of the roll-over victims were young, inexperienced drivers. Alcohol consumption was evident in 50% of the accidents, NHTSA said.

Allegations against the Samurai spurred calls for NHTSA to adopt roll-over standards covering all vehicles.

Rated 'Not Acceptable'

The Samurai, a popular product of American Suzuki Motor Corp., came under attack last June. Consumer Reports magazine, published by Consumers Union, gave the Japanese vehicle its first "not acceptable" rating in a decade because of what the group said were basic design flaws.

The magazine said the Samurai presented an unsafe combination of a high center of gravity, a narrow tread width and a light weight. It said tests revealed that the Samurai showed a dangerous tendency to roll over when performing relatively routine maneuvers at relatively low speeds.

Consumers Union petitioned NHTSA for a full-scale investigation that could have led to a mandatory recall if the agency found the allegations valid.

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