April 29, 2004


Increase in SUV rollover deaths prompts call for improved safety regulations

Washington, D.C. – Preliminary estimates released today by the U.S. government reveal the highest number of motor vehicle deaths since 1990 and a 10 percent increase in SUV rollover deaths in the past year.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, renewed its call on Congress to approve safety measures in S. 1072, which was passed by the Senate in February but opposed by both the House leadership and the Bush Administration, which has described the safety measures as “too prescriptive.”

“We need members of Congress to wake up to these alarming numbers. SUV fatalities are up by 456 over last year, and 55 percent of these deaths were in rollover crashes,” said Sally Greenberg, CU’s senior product safety counsel.

Added R. David Pittle, CU’s technical policy vice president: “For a fourth year in a row, highway crash fatalities have climbed. We ask Congress to pass these important safety measures; if they do not, we can expect these troubling trends to continue.”

S. 1072 would require all SUVs and pickup trucks to meet a stability standard and also would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to evaluate Electronic Stability Control systems – technology currently found on higher-end vehicles. Consumers Union’s testing has shown these systems to be effective in preventing rollovers.

NHTSA’s preliminary data for 2003 shows while passenger car fatalities declined by 778, SUV fatalities increased by 456. SUV fatalities in rollover crashes increased 10 percent in a single year, from 2,448 to 2,701. As the agency’s press release noted, “This increase was partially accounted for by increases in SUV sales.”

NHTSA data also show that 43,220 motor vehicle deaths occurred in 2003, the highest number of fatalities since 1990, and the fourth year in a row that deaths have climbed. Last year, 42,815 people were killed on U.S. roads and highways.

In addition to stability standards, the Senate-passed bill also requires NHTSA to move forward with reasonable deadlines on safety standards to address vehicle rollover prevention, crash ejection avoidance, side impact protection, roof crush strength, seat belt performance and vehicle compatibility. The bill addresses dangers to children in and around cars, from power window strangulations to backover hazards. Other provisions of S.1072 call for improving the safety of 15-passenger vans frequently used to transport children, church groups and sports teams; identify ways to address restricted visibility, particularly on SUVs; and encourage states to pass booster seat laws and control the growth of bigger, more dangerous trucks on streets and highways.

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