Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced its new standards for stronger roofs in vehicles, with an aim to reduce passenger injuries and deaths in rollover crashes. The roof strength rule hadn’t been updated since 1971.
Happily, the NHTSA did not preserve the original plan of the Bush administration to insert preemption language into the roof strength rule which would undermine a consumer’s right to compensation for injuries sustained in rollover crashes, stating that “Consumer advocacy groups, members of Congress and State officials, trial lawyers, consultants, members of academia, and private individuals strongly opposed” preemption.
Sadly, the new roof strength rule is not all we hoped it would be. While the NHTSA has doubled the mandatory roof strength (increasing the strength-to-weight ratio from 1.5:1 to 3:1), this is only enough, by NHTSA calculations, to prevent 135 of the 10,000 deaths that occur in rollover crashes each year. If the roofs of many new vehicles can already withstand 3 to 5 times the vehicle’s weight (the VW Jetta roof has a 5:1 strength to weight ratio), why not make the standard even higher? Why not prevent as many deaths as possible with a stricter standard that is already demonstrably attainable?
The NHTSA is giving auto makers more than six years (or model year 2016) to comply 100% with the standard; only 25% of 2013 models will be mandated to meet it.