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SUVs Improve in Rollover Ratings

Regulators credit the popularity of 'crossover' vehicles, which have lower centers of gravity.

June 23, 2005|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Car manufacturers are doing a better job designing sport utility vehicles to resist rollover accidents, U.S. safety regulators said Wednesday.

Popular SUVs have earned increasingly high marks in government rollover tests over the last four years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in rollover resistance," agency Administrator Jeffrey Runge told reporters.

The number of SUVs with a four-star rollover rating out of a possible five stars grew from just one in 2001 to 24 in newly released rollover test results for 2005 model year vehicles, the safety administration said.

Among the SUVs that improved to a four-star rating in the last two years were the four-wheel-drive versions of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Trailblazer and DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee.

For 2005 model year vehicles tested, the highest rated SUV was Ford Motor Co.'s Freestyle 4x4, earning four stars with a 13% chance of rolling over if involved in a single-vehicle crash.

The Freestyle, a "crossover" vehicle that combines SUV and station wagon styling with a car-like ride, matches DaimlerChrysler's 2005 Pacifica, a carry-over vehicle from 2004, which also earned four stars and had a 13% chance of rolling over during 2004 model year testing.

Rollovers represent only a small fraction of crashes on U.S. roads but a quarter of all traffic deaths. The safety administration has projected that 10,296 Americans were killed in rollover accidents in 2004. Of those, 2,821 were in SUVs, an increase of nearly 7% over the previous year, according to the agency.

Runge attributed much of the improved scores to the recent introduction of crossover vehicles, which are styled more like station wagons and tend to have lower centers of gravity.

"We think that the manufacturers have really responded in really commendable ways to our need to do something about rollover deaths and injuries," Runge said.

But Runge said it would take years before the improved ratings translate into fewer deaths because it takes about 25 years for the U.S. fleet to turn over.

Runge said regulators were still concerned about continuing rollover problems with pickup trucks. Ratings for pickups have not improved like those of SUVs, and they are increasingly popular among young drivers.

It's harder for manufacturers to make design changes to pickups because they're designed to be work vehicles, he said.

"We're going to have to rely on the manufacturers to think about that and to try to figure out what they can do to these vehicles technologically to improve their performance without harming the utility of pickup trucks," Runge said.

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