Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers at Good Georgia Lawyer continue its multi-part series on SUV Rollovers:
Consumer Advocacy Recommendations as to how to solve the Rollover Problem and the Industry’s Response:
On June 4, 2008, former head of NHTSA and then President of Public Citizen Joan Claybrook testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. She recommended that after twenty years of pushing for a response for NHTSA to address rollover fatalities, the agency do the following:
1. “Instead of tackling the rollover problem in a piecemeal way, it should issue a single, unified rollover crashworthiness standard that tackles the three elements of rollover occupant protection: prevent ejection, provide adequate restraint, and ensure that occupants are not injured or killed by an intruding roof by issuing a dynamic two-sided roof strength standard that measures occupant injury potential.”
2. “Provide widely publicized consumer information about roof strength using a static test that consists of two sequential platen tests until the agency can issue a dynamic crash test standard.”
Historically as well as currently, auto manufacturers refuse to acknowledge that injuries are caused due to roof crush and that any two sided testing is necessary. Currently, NHTSA only requires one sided testing. But as Claybrook explained in her testimony, any rollover performance test must be two sided because the risk to the vehicle occupants completely depends on whether the occupant is sitting on the ‘near side,’ the side that makes contact with the ground first or the ‘far side,’ the side that makes contact with the ground last.
An example of this is to imagine if one was “looking at a vehicle as it rolls sideways, in slow motion: as it rolls over, first one side of the vehicle roof will make contact with the ground; then, the other side will make contact; and, depending on the speed of the vehicle crash, this sequence might repeat several times. In the first impact, the vehicle’s windshield and windows often break, weakening the roof structure by as much as 30 percent, which means the far side occupant is protected by a roof up to 30 percent weaker than the occupant on the near side, which hit the ground first.”
In real-world crashes, this leads to a situation where the far seated occupant often suffers fatal injuries, while the near seated occupant walks away with only minor injuries. As you can see from the following pictures, people are seriously more injured when sitting on the far side as compared to the near side.
The Problem of Far Side Impacts:
In rollovers the roof is mainly crushed and people are seriously injured on the FAR side,
opposite to the direction of roll (or NEAR side).
As one can also see from the picture, the second, far side impact in a rollover crash is different from the first impact in a number of ways. It “has a different and more severe pitch angle and greater roll angle. The strength provided by the windshield and its bonding is gone after the first impact when both break, meaning that the roof is substantially weakened when the second or far side impact occurs.”
Consequently, a one-sided test fails to diagnose a major cause of injury to occupants in rollovers, and far side roof strength is far more important than near side. “While near side tests pass vehicles that can support 1 ½ times the vehicle’s weight in a static test, on the far side in a sequential test, many vehicle roofs cannot actually support even the weight of the vehicle. This is the reason for roof collapse in actual rollover crashes.”
Moreover, ejection is the most dangerous possibility for an occupant caught in a rollover crash. A vehicle’s roof strength is closely tied to the risk of ejection during a rollover “because if the roof is too weak, the supporting pillars deform and collapse when the vehicle’s roof strikes the ground in a rollover, warping and shattering the windshield and side windows and unlatching the doors and seatbelts allowing the occupants to be ejected.
Conclusively, in rollover crashes, people are seriously injured on the far side and from ejection due to the roof crush. As such, NHTSA’s capitulation to the auto industry in allowing the current one-sided test fails to appropriately measure the roof crush risk and risk of the occupant seated on the far side. In order for the dangers of SUV fatalities to be mitigated, it is essential that a unified rollover crashworthiness standard be adopted that utilizes a two-sided roof strength test standard.