WASHINGTON -- The government is considering changing how vehicle roofs are tested in hopes of better protecting people in rollovers, by far the deadliest type of highway accident.
The testing standard hasn't changed in 28 years and officials acknowledge it doesn't mirror what really happens when a vehicle overturns.
The current test involves placing a steel plate on the roof at an angle, to represent contact with the ground during a rollover, and applying 1 1/2 times the vehicle's weight. The vehicle passes if the roof caves in less than 5 inches.
"The test is totally inadequate and desperately needs to be upgraded," said Judith Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "In the real world, when the car is moving, there is much more weight that is going to be placed against the roof in a rollover."
The test is required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but conducted in-house by automakers. Every type of car must pass to be sold in the United States.
Sean Kane of Strategic Safety, a group that researches automotive safety issues for attorneys who sue automakers, agreed the test is too easy.
"The effect is that manufacturers build their vehicles to meet the standard, but don't consider the real-world forces in a rollover accident," he said.
Rollover crashes killed 9,873 people last year, accounting for nearly a quarter of all U.S. traffic deaths. A person involved in a rollover is four times more likely to die than if in a vehicle struck from the front, rear or side, according to NHTSA.
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