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Why SUV Rollovers Cause Wrongful Deaths Part One

Thumbnail image for rollover.jpgThe alarming fact is that each year, more than 10,500 people die in SUV rollovers, and another 24,000 to 30,000 are seriously injured. And, families will keep being torn apart until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enforces a “comprehensive dynamic rollover standard that covers belt performance, door and glazing retention, and roof crush” and enforces adequate roof crush testing.

Several decades ago, rollover crashes were few: in 1969 there were just 1,400 deaths in rollover crashes because pickups were primarily driven as work vehicles and the SUV was not yet marketed as a passenger-carrying vehicle. But over the course of the latter end of the 20th century, the auto industry commenced on a strategic advertising campaign to convince the public that SUV’s were “the station wagon of the future.” Thus, a product originally suited for off-roading, outdoors terrain, became a ubiquitous sight driven by everyone from hip hop stars to soccer moms on urban freeways and suburban cul-de-sacs across America. As a result of this, families are losing loved ones at a rate of over 10,000 per year.

Starting almost two decades ago, the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) alerted the industry that utility vehicles were rolling over at five times the rate of passenger cars. Currently, although rollovers account for less than three percent of passenger vehicles in all police-reported crashes, they make up about twenty three percent of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest report documents that in 2007, there were 10,194 fatalities in rollover crashes, accounting for approximately 1/3 of all highway occupant fatalities.” As of this year, “motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of people aged 3 to 33, and rollover crashes account for a disproportionate and unnecessary number of these deaths.”

Why are SUV rollovers so deadly? The primary reason lies with the design of the vehicle. The narrow wheel base and a high center of gravity, gives them the propensity to ‘trip’ even at a low rate of speed when it grazes a curb, slightly swerves or hits a soft shoulder. However the most fatal feature of the SUV occurs from the result of the rollover: roof-crush. Without roll bars or other reinforcement, the top of the SUV roof crushes down on the heads and necks of the passengers when the full weight of the vehicle lands on it. When that happens, fatal consequences occur.

If the roof is too weak, the vehicle support pillars will collapse, crushing the roof and doors, including areas which hold the seat belt mechanism in place. The doors and roof, pushed down like an accordion, will cause the seatbelts (attached to the top of the roof and window) to break, no longer holding the passenger in place. Additionally, the crushing roof will cause the windshield and side windows to break open, creating portals where occupants, without the protection of working seatbelts, will be ejected. Consequently, two outcomes generally occur: either the passengers will be fatally ejected from the vehicle; or the roof will crush down onto the heads and spine of those trapped inside.

Despite these risks, the auto industry refused for decades to reinforce roofs or even acknowledge the deadly dangers of roof crush despite pleas from numerous consumer rights groups. Furthermore, over the past several decades despite empirical evidence to the contrary, the auto industry systematically denied the dangers of roof-crush and deliberately pressured federal regulators and lawmakers to otherwise protect the public from this avoidable product design.

If you or your loved one has suffered a serious injury or wrongful death due to SUV rollover, contact the Oinonen Law Group LLC at 404-654-0288.