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Ford misled regulators on SUV data

Public Citizen says automaker left out key information

DETROIT - March 30, 2005 - Ford Motor Co misled U.S. regulators about the safety of the roof on its Explorer sport utility vehicle during rollover crash tests, a report released on Wednesday said.

The report -- sponsored by Tab Turner, an attorney who is litigating numerous product liability cases against Ford --studied raw data from rollover tests conducted by Ford on the Explorer SUV in 1998-9999.

Ford provided an analysis of the data to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last March to contend that there was no link between roof strength and rollover-related deaths.

But according to Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, the automaker misled the safety agency by leaving out important information that would have contradicted Ford’s position on roof strength and safety.

“Ford’s presentation to the agency failed to include some very critical data findings,” said Martha Bidez, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Alabama, who authored the study.

Ford told NHTSA that most of serious neck injuries to the driver dummy occurred before the roof of the SUV crushed in during the crash test, according to Public Citizen.

But Bidez said an analysis of data from the accelerometer -- a device that can measure the acceleration of various components of a vehicle -- shows that significant roof crush occurred prior to peak injury to the dummy’s neck.

Ford said that years of testing show strengthening the roof will not affect the outcome of the crash.

“We’ve looked at injury and fatality rates in rollovers involving vehicles that just meet the federal standard to vehicles that have roof strengths that are multiples of the federal standard and there isn’t a difference,” Ford said in a statement.

“Changes to federal roof strength standards must be based on facts and sound science, not the narrow agendas of special interest groups,” the automaker said.

NHTSA is on the verge of proposing a new roof strength standard. The current standard was set in 1971 and has not been updated since.

General Motors Corp and other automakers have also fought attempts to upgrade the rule, known as standard 216.

Bidez and her associates got hold of the raw data after it was shown to juries across the country in lawsuits involving Explorer rollover crashes.

Ford is facing a series of lawsuits over alleged safety defects with its Explorer SUV. Additionally, Ford is facing a class-action lawsuit over faulty Firestone tires installed mostly as original equipment on Explorers.

Ford’s Volvo unit, on the other hand, considered roof strength critical to protecting passengers in rollover crashes, Turner said.

Internal company memos show that there was a dispute between Volvo -- which was in the process of incorporating roof safety features in a new SUV when it was bought by Ford -- and the Dearborn-based automaker, Turner said.

“Ultimately there was a memo of understanding worked out between Ford and Volvo to help Ford in the context of litigations to explain why it has not historically taken the kind of (roof safety) steps Volvo had been taking,” Turner said.

Report criticizes automakers' stance on roof strength

WASHINGTON (AP) - March 30, 2005 - A new report analyzing data from a lawsuit involving Ford Motor Co. contends automakers have misled the public by saying that roof strength and injuries involved in rollover crashes are unrelated.

The report released Wednesday examined tests conducted by Ford that were later released as part of a Florida lawsuit involving the death of a 26-year-old woman who was killed in a rollover accident while driving a Ford Explorer.

In the report, Martha Bidez, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, argues that roof crush causes catastrophic injury and death. She says improving a vehicle's resistance to roof crush would prevent head and spinal cord injuries and deaths in rollovers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to issue new requirements for roof strength this year. Safety groups have pushed for stronger roof standards.

"Strengthening roofs and installing other basic safety devices, such as side head air bags, safety glass and pre-tensioned belts, is the only way to save lives in rollover crashes," said Joan Claybrook, president of the safety advocacy group Public Citizen, which announced the study's findings.

"For automakers to claim that head injuries are the fault of people "diving' into the roofs of their cars is ludicrous. If the roofs didn't collapse in a rollover crash, the people in the vehicle have a far better chance of surviving. The industry should strengthen roofs," she said.

Ford, in a statement, said it had not yet analyzed the study. But the automaker said "it appears to be based on previous material prepared by Martha Bidez, which is seriously flawed, unscientific, and it misinterprets the data she is relying on.

"Simply strengthening the roof won't improve the safety of SUVs and other passenger vehicles in rollovers," the company said. "Years of testing show strengthening the roof will not affect the outcome of the crash for the simple reason that the injury mechanics are not related to how much the roof is deformed in a rollover crash."

Safety groups say the roof is pivotal in crashes, especially those involving sport utility vehicles, because the roof crush makes safety belts less likely to work and the occupant more likely to be ejected from the vehicle.

The study was based on tests released in a Jacksonville, Fla., lawsuit surrounding the death of Claire Duncan, who died in a May 2001 rollover crash along Interstate 95 in Virginia.

The Jacksonville jury on March 18 ruled the Explorer's roof was defective and ordered Ford to pay Duncan's husband $10.2 million for economic damages, pain and suffering.

Black ice surprises drivers, causes rollovers in Fargo areaAssociated

Feb. 13, 2006 - FARGO, N.D. - "Black ice" has been surprising drivers in the Fargo area this morning. It formed as snow blew across the pavement and glazed the surface, or melted and quickly refroze.

Authorities report about a half dozen roll-overs. At least one near Glyndon, Minnesota, involved serious injuries. Clay County, Minnesota, Sheriff Bill Berquist says a woman had to be extricated from her sport utility vehicle before being taken to the hospital.

Another woman escaped serious injury when her SUV rolled five times on Interstate 94 near Casselton, North Dakota. Law enforcement officials are advising drivers to slow down, because they can hit ice with no warning.

Several injured in SUV rollover

Staff and Wire Reports

July 25, 2007 - Several people were injured in an accident Tuesday night on U.S. 34 and Larimer County Road 3.

A sport utility vehicle carrying at least six passengers rolled over, resulting in two minor injuries, one moderate and one serious bodily injury. Two other people were ejected from the vehicle. The victims were taken to Medical Center of the Rockies and troopers from the Colorado State Patrol were still on scene as of 7:30 p.m.


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