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Consumers Digest Warns of Limitations of Auto Safety Ratings

DEERFIELD, Ill., Dec. 13, 2005 -- Don't rely solely on those widely publicized star-based ratings for assessing the safety of your next auto purchase, say the editors of Consumers Digest. While car makers' use those star ratings extensively in auto ads, CD's staff joins other critics of the methodology, objectivity and sensibility of the tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

In "Crash Tests: What's Behind the Auto Safety Ratings," in the February issue of CD (on sale January 1), NHTSA is criticized for an out-of-date scheme in conducting its frontal-crash test program. IIHS is chided for being more concerned with testing vehicles to evaluate for potential for insurance claims rather than overall crashworthiness. Other methodology concerns include an inability to compare results of one vehicle to those of another in a different size/weight class; side-impact testing on NHTSA's part that isn't designed to evaluate injury to a car occupant's head; NHTSA's dependence on vehicle dimensions rather than actual test-driving performance to compute rollover ratings.

Neither group's ratings consider how well a given vehicle can help motorists stop, steer or otherwise maintain control to avoid getting into accidents in the first place.

Rich Dzierwa, CD's managing editor, points out how some experts contend the human factor is mistakenly omitted from the safety equation when only NHTSA's and IIHS' ratings are considered. The age/experience or height of the person behind the wheel, for example, needs to be taken into account in the purchase of an SUV to determine how "safe" it is to drive. Rusty Haight, director of the Collision Safety Institute, says "There are so many aspects of traffic safety that you can't just single out one aspect and say it's . . . the thing that is going to make (you) safest."

Consumers Digest's editors express particular confusion over how these four- and five-star rating systems often don't assign any vehicle less than "3 stars." "With no significant variation in test results among comparable vehicles, the tests are virtually rendered moot," the article's author, CD auto expert Jim Gorzelany, said in the piece.

The bottom line, the magazine reports, is that these crash tests should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. They do indicate that today's vehicles perform better than ever before in crash tests, but they are far from perfect and, thus, should be viewed as components of a comprehensive vehicle safety evaluation.

"Safety sells when it comes to automobiles," Dzierwa says. "But there's far more to consider when evaluating an automobile's safety than just counting the stars."

Consumers Digest, launched in 1959, is designed to inform and educate readers so they can buy with confidence, no matter the product or service. The magazine is committed to providing practical advice, factual evaluations and specific recommendations, leading consumers to exceptional values in today's complex marketplace.

Palm Springs woman charged in son's death

Marie McCain
The Desert Sun
January 25, 2006 - A 25-year-old Palm Springs woman was arrested this morning, charged with vehicular manslaughter in the Dec. 26 death of her 2-year-old son.

Palm Springs police said Jessica Vey, who was driving an SUV that overturned along Sunrise Way killing her son, was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the incident.

Shortly before 6:30 p.m., Vey was driving an SUV just north of Francis Drive along Sunrise when she struck a curb and lost control of her vehicle, police said.

Also in the SUV were three of Vey's children, ages 2, 5, and 6.

The youngest child had apparently gotten out of his car seat during the trip, official said.

The toddler, Armando Rocha III, was thrown from the SUV when it overturned.

Vey told investigators the toddler had been belted into his car seat but got out of it while she was driving home.

Police said Vey did not stop to belt the child back in because she said she was a few blocks from home.

Besides vehicular manslaughter, Vey also is charged with two felony counts of driving under the influence causing injury and three felony counts of child endangerment under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death.

Ford recalls 150,000 SUVs

Apr. 14, 2006 - WASHINGTON - Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it would recall nearly 150,000 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner sport-utility vehicles after the government and the automaker reached different conclusions in safety tests measuring the driver's head protection in a crash.

The recall affects some SUVs from the 2005 model year without side curtain air bags or moonroofs. Ford told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration it did not know of any reported injuries linked to the recalled vehicles.

In government testing, NHTSA found the SUVs had a head-injury score along the driver's side roofline near the front pillar that was marginally above the maximum allowed under federal regulations.

Ford conducted its own testing and found "a significant compliance margin," but decided to conduct the recall "to avoid a protracted dispute with the agency," according to an April 3 letter to NHTSA.

Ford said in a statement Thursday the recall will make adjustments to reduce the stiffness of the energy-absorbing foam in the affected area.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley noted that the regulation allows many different test setups, and the one chosen by NHTSA was different than the setup selected by Ford. Kinley said the automaker chose the test setup that it felt was the "worst-case scenario."

Ford said it encourages all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and "a belted occupant is not likely to contact the area of the vehicle that is in question."

The Escape and Mariner are built on the same platforms and considered corporate twins. Nearly 132,000 of the vehicles are in the United States and more than 15,000 are located in Canada.

Owners will be notified of the recall by mail by late May. They can also call Ford at 800-392-3673 or their local dealership to learn whether their vehicles are subject to the recall.


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