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Realistic Rollover Road Test to Replace former 'On Paper' Rollover Risk

WASHINGTON October 6, 2003; Dee-Ann Durbin writing for the AP reported that after years of using a dry, mathematical formula to predict rollover risk, the government is adding a wheel-squealing road test this week that is intended to give consumers more information about a vehicle's handling capabilities.

Automakers said the road test will reward the best-handling vehicles in each class by highlighting performance measures the formula cannot assess. One example is stability control, a system that applies brakes to specific tires and decelerates if it senses a driver is veering off course.

The government's auto-safety agency is considering two road tests and will announce its decision Tuesday. In the future, the government's five-star rating system for rollover risk will factor in road-tests results as well as the mathematical approach.

In one of the road tests, a vehicle is driven in a straight line at 60 m.p.h. and then abruptly turned. In the second, a vehicle is driven in a straight line at 50 m.p.h., turned left, then sharply turned right.

The mathematical formula uses the vehicle's width and center of gravity to produce a rating. One star means a vehicle has a rollover risk of more than 40 percent; five stars mean a risk of less than 10 percent.

Sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks are more top-heavy and tend to get lower marks under the mathematical approach.

R. David Pittle, senior vice president of the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said a road test will give car buyers a better indication of a vehicle's real-world performance.

Rollovers result in more than 10,000 deaths each year, or a little less than one-quarter of all the deaths caused by vehicular accidents. SUVs are of particular concern to regulators because more than 60 percent of fatalities in SUVs involve rollovers, compared with 22 percent of car deaths.