Sport Utility Vehicles Will Get Close Look; NHTSA LTV Safety Project Moves on to Crash Testing

18 February 1998

Sport Utility Vehicles Will Get Close Look; NHTSA LTV Safety Project Moves on to Crash Testing

    WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 -- Continuing its comprehensive review of
the safety of light trucks and vans (LTVs), the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced it will begin a series of crash
tests to assess the compatibility of LTVs with passenger cars and hold an
international summit to discuss LTV-passenger car safety.  Additionally, the
safety agency released a university study analyzing the effect of LTVs on
safety in passenger cars.
    NHTSA will conduct a series of six crash tests beginning Feb. 20, 1998, at
its Vehicle Research Test Center in East Liberty, Ohio.  The first three
vehicles to be tested will be a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck, a 1997 Ford
Explorer, and a 1997 Dodge Caravan.  A 1998 Honda Accord will serve as the
struck vehicle in all six tests.
    "Safety is President Clinton's highest transportation priority, and crash
testing will give us real world safety information on these larger vehicles,"
said Ricardo Martinez, M.D., NHTSA administrator.  "To help in this effort,
auto manufacturers have agreed to participate in a summit on this issue.  We
all must keep our focus on the safety of families."
    In the crash testing, engineers will stage typical collisions between
sport utility vehicles, minivans, pickup trucks and passenger cars to examine
so-called "incompatibilities" -- or mismatches in vehicle design -- that may
increase the severity and consequences of crashes.  There will be three
frontal crashes and three side collisions.  The latter tests simulate an
intersection crash where the striking vehicle is traveling at 30 mph and the
struck vehicle at 15 mph.
    While the number of vehicles in the U.S. fleet grows at an annual rate of
2 percent, LTV sales are growing at nearly 8 percent annually.  The popular
vehicles now represent 34 percent of the total fleet on the nation's highways.
As a class, they are considered more "aggressive" than passenger cars in
crashes.  Since 1992, there have been more fatalities in car-LTV collisions
than in car-to-car crashes.  In car-LTV crashes, research shows that 80
percent of the fatalities are occupants of the car.
    Dr. Martinez will convene the LTV Summit to present NHTSA's preliminary
crash tests results and discuss the range of issues surrounding LTV-passenger
car safety.  The summit will take place in Detroit in conjunction with the
International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles in
Windsor, Ontario, Canada May 31-June 4, 1998.
    Dr. Martinez said that NHTSA's goal is to get all parties involved with
these vehicles together to share collective knowledge, to define problems and
work as partners toward solutions.
    In a related action, the safety agency also today released a NHTSA-
sponsored LTV study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research
Institute (UMTRI).  In determining the crashworthiness and aggressivity of
passenger cars and LTVs, the study establishes a numerical risk of injury or
death in a variety of crash scenarios.  The UMTRI study shows, for example,
that when an SUV strikes a passenger car in a frontal crash, there are five
fatalities in the car for each fatality in the sport utility vehicle; and when
an SUV strikes a passenger car on the side, there are 30 fatalities in the car
for each fatality in the SUV.
    NHTSA engineers also will present a new technical paper, The Aggressivity
Of Light Trucks And Vans In Traffic Crashes, at the 1998 Society of Automotive
Engineers (SAE) International Annual Congress Feb. 23-26, 1998, in Detroit.
The paper concludes that although LTVs account for one-third of registered
vehicles, collisions between cars and LTVs account for over half of all
fatalities in multi-vehicle, crashes.  Also, nearly 60 percent of all
fatalities in side impact crashes occur when the striking vehicle is an LTV.
The report also considers vehicle design, citing structural stiffness and
higher ride height as factors in vehicle aggressivity.
    The crash testing and technical examinations are key parts of NHTSA's
comprehensive look at LTV safety issues.  The agency is considering proposing
new rollover warning labels for SUVs.  It will also continue research on a new
dynamic rollover test for LTVs.  The agency also will study driver behavior
and education.
    NHTSA researchers also are reviewing ways to reduce the incidence of
driver and passenger ejection in crashes through changes such as stronger
window glazing, new door locks, and roof crush bars.
    Copies of the UMTRI report are available from the NHTSA Office of Public
and Consumer Affairs at 202-366-9550.  The SAE technical paper will be
available from SAE and NHTSA after its presentation in Detroit.

SOURCE  U.S. Department of Transportation

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