On April 30, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a long-awaited — by Washington pressure groups anyway — notice of revisions to the roof-crush testing standard for all light vehicles.
In essence, it doubled the standard for passenger cars and trucks weighing up to 6,000 pounds, and for the first time added test requirements for vehicles weighing between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds (typically “super duty” pickups like Ford F-250/Chevrolet 2500 and up). The revised standards will be phased in September 2012 for 2013 model-year vehicles and completed with introduction of 2017 models.
In its news release, NHTSA made no claims for lives saved by the new regulation, or the resulting costs to buyers of new cars. However, published news accounts attributed to the Department of Transportation, of which NHTSA is part, stated that the upgraded standard will “save 135 lives, prevent 1,000 injuries and add up to $1.4 billion annually to the cost of new cars. (NHTSA did not respond to this reporter’s query.)
The question: is the government’s new roof-crush standard worth it? Of course, if you or a loved one is one of the 135 lives, obviously it is. But the real issue is could the money be better spent? Are there other strategies that might be quicker and more productive, save more lives and injuries for the same bucks? Possibly.
For one thing, the numbers of lives saved probably means only after all vehicles on the road have met the standard, replacing older vehicles. Given a typical passenger vehicle life of ten years, which means the 135 lives saved would come sometime between 2013 and 2027, and closer to the end than the beginning. Traditionally only about ten percent of the vehicle population is retired each year, and this applies mainly to passenger cars and may be out of date, meaning it could take even longer to get the hoped-for results in the current economic climate.
For another thing, there’s a July 2003 NHTSA study of deaths from rollover crashes called Initiatives to Address the Mitigation of Vehicle Rollover. It suggested a number of strategies-vehicle, roadway and behavioral–for reducing the highway toll from this type of incident. In my view the study was complete, scientific (meaning free from political interference) and filled with excellent initiatives for follow-up. Only one of the strategies dealt with roof-crush standard stiffening-and it seemed to be uncertain. (more…)