Auto Safety Agency Fails Again to Tackle Rollover Hazard

26 July 1997

Auto Safety Agency Fails Again to Tackle Rollover Hazard

   Statement of Dr. R. David Pittle, Vice President and Technical Director,
           Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine)

RE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) denial of Consumers
Union (CU) petition for a defect investigation of the Isuzu Trooper ('95-'96)
                             and Acura SLX (1996)

    YONKERS, N.Y., July 25 -- The following is a statement from
Dr. R. David Pittle, Vice President and Technical Director, Consumers Union
(publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine).
    NHTSA's refusal to grant our petition is the latest in a disturbing record
of misguided decisions, in which the federal safety agency has failed to
protect consumers from rollover hazards.  It is a serious setback for the
nation's motorists.
    While Isuzu claims that NHTSA has now 'vindicated' the Trooper, NHTSA has
not done that, and Isuzu's claim is seriously misleading. In denying our
petition, NHTSA is not endorsing the safety of the Trooper/SLX; the agency is
only saying that it does not expect that opening a defect investigation would
lead to a formal recall.  In fact, we believe that NHTSA's own tests show that
these vehicles have a unique and dangerous tendency to roll.
    NHTSA has acknowledged that rollovers are a serious problem.  That is why,
in mid-May, they granted our rulemaking petition and agreed to explore a
dynamic rollover standard.  But in case after case, dating back two decades,
the nation's auto safety agency has refused to take meaningful action against
specific vehicles that clearly pose a rollover hazard.
    In its denial of our petition to investigate the Trooper, NHTSA itself
chronicled its own poor record:

    In 1979 and 1981, the agency refused to investigate the Jeep CJ5, a
vehicle with a widely recognized tendency to roll.

    In 1988, and again in 1996, NHTSA turned down petitions to investigate the
Suzuki Samurai - a vehicle that showed a serious rollover problem in our
tests, and that has been involved in 147 deaths and some 7000 injuries. Suzuki
has settled most of the nearly 200 suits brought against it, paying many
millions of dollars in settlements.

    In 1989, the agency did open a limited investigation of the Ford Bronco
II, which was also involved in numerous rollover accidents, but ended the
investigation without taking action.

    In denying our petition now, NHTSA is making a serious mistake that we
believe will have a deleterious impact on public safety.  Since 1988, we have
tested 57 sport-utility vehicles, minivans, and compact trucks on our special
emergency-handling course, and only the Trooper, the Acura SLX, the Suzuki
Samurai, and the Bronco II have shown a significant tendency to tip.  To be
sure of our results on the Trooper/SLX, we ran 125 tests at 36 mph and above,
and found that these vehicles tipped up 62 times (with two wheels off the
ground).
    We are now doing a thorough analysis of the NHTSA decision, and will have
a detailed critique available shortly.  Several major flaws in the agency's
work are immediately apparent:

    NHTSA did not test the Trooper against any other, similar vehicles.  When
we tested the Trooper/SLX against other SUVs - and did so in the context of
many years of testing similar vehicles - it was clear that the Trooper/SLX
uniquely performs in a hazardous way that most other SUVs do not.
    When NHTSA repeated our tests of the Trooper, the agency also found tip-
ups, although not as frequently as we did.  We believe that NHTSA has failed
to take these tip-ups seriously enough.
    We are amazed that NHTSA did not consider its own test results grounds for
opening an investigation.
    NHTSA improperly discounts consumers' real-world experience.  As the
agency says in its own decision, there have already been 36 consumer
complaints, and some reported accidents, relating to the instability of the
Trooper/SLX - even though the models in question have not been on the road for
long, and a relatively small number of these vehicles are in use.
    Consumers Union has been testing cars for over 60 years.  Our work has
stood the test of time and the scrutiny of the marketplace: Tens of millions
of American consumers have found our automobile information reliable, and
justifiably so.  When we find a major safety problem in a car - which happens
rarely - we take it very seriously, and do everything we can to alert
consumers.  We have also done our best to get the government to take
appropriate steps.  The government's failure to act on the Trooper/SLX and
other highly rollover-prone vehicles is a serious failure, and a disservice to
consumers.
    We are independent and objective.  We stand by our tests, and will
continue to alert the public to the safety problem these vehicles pose.

SOURCE  Consumers Union



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