When the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) first came into being, automakers were heavily regulated as then head of NHTSA, Joan Claybrook, a Ralph Nader protégé, went after dangerous vehicles like the Ford Pinto. Claybrook, who has been aptly described as the “most ardent champion of consumer protection and the common good,” has spent most of her life working to save the American consumer from one of the most significant dangers on the market today: SUV rollovers.
Recently retired as president of the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, she has worked on auto safety issues for over forty years and was the head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration during the Carter administration.
Scientifically, Claybrook explains that rollover crashes should be well survivable: “Forces felt by an occupant who has a rollover pretention restrain and who does not contact the roof are not as violent as those experienced in a frontal impact crash.”
Claybrook asserts that the physics of rollover crashes are indisputable. In her testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2008, she explained the elements of a rollover: “Rollover crashes occur over a 4-6 second time interval, whereas other crashes are over milliseconds. Consequently, the forces acting on occupants are relatively mild and the focus becomes threefold: (1) whether the restraint properly and safely keeps the occupant in the survival zone of the vehicle; (2) whether the vehicle structure maintains the occupant survival space; and (3) whether the portals of ejection, e.g., side windows, stay intact thus preventing exposure to partial ejection.”
Yet despite the fact that rollover fatalities can and should be avoidable, there has been a long history of the American auto industry resisting safety standards that would mitigate such fatalities. Additionally, “in this era of active products liability litigation and frequent media coverage of product safety issues, it is surprising that one kind of product-related accident has caused thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries but has received virtually no legal attention.”
Authors Latin and Kasolas call this public safety states that while SUV’s are “probably the most dangerous products (other than tobacco and alcohol) in widespread use in the United States” and yet while manufacturer design lawsuits have been brought against SUV manufacturers, “almost no legal attention devoted to the dangers of defective SUV designs for the occupants of other vehicles in collisions with SUVs.”
The Oinonen Law Group seeks to represent those families who have experienced a wrongful death and/or serious injuries. Contact us today at 404-654-0288 for more information.