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This article, demonstrates the vulnerability of SUV vehicles in a rollover situation. Dateline from NBC by Lea Thompson did several investigations in regards to this issue, to prove given facts that all SUV models are showing fatal accidents in rollover incidents. The investigation it also shows that many consumers have been mislead and, have also been provided with false information that SUVs are safer and durable than automobiles. In a current incident, the families of Adolfo Morales with six people, including a baby, were traveling on a California freeway in September when a tire on their Ford Explorer suddenly failed. As Adolfo indicates, the last thing he remembered was suddenly, we were on our side with the driver s side facing the sky. The SUV skidded across the freeway and began to roll. In the accident there was Adolfo s eighteen-year-old brother Bryan, riding on the back of the SUV around the cargo area where he was killed on impact, and three other family members were hospitalized even though, they wore their seat belts. Mr. Morales said the only reason he purchased the SUV was because, It was big, roomy, and my family would be safe. Now with more accidents such as the Morales s, we are now asking how safe are the SUVs?
To illustrate the reason why SUVs rollover is because the height of the vehicle increases the instability of the center of gravity and that is the major cause of rollover incidents. Brian O Niell, who is the head of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that all of this became an issue 20 years ago when the CJ-5, an army jeep, started to rollover in an army test. The test showed that at 25 miles an hour a car can make a safe turn, but when the CJ-5 jeep tried make the exact turn at 22 miles an hour, it flipped over. The manufacture of the CJ-5 jeep defended the vehicle by saying that it was safe, and that it was never re-called. Soon after, the jeep was discontinued, a redesign version went on the market, and the government required for most SUVs vehicles to have warning labels. However, David Pittle, a Technical Director of the Consumer s Union said, You can t sticker-over a safety problem like this. In his experience, Mr. Pittle test-drove a Suzuki Samarai that was most popular in 1998. As he test-drove the vehicle, it suddenly came up on two wheels and the horizon became a slant. He expresses it as, It was a very scary experience. In our judgment it was unreasonably dangerous. Also, Suzuki defended the SUV by saying that their vehicle was safe, but then the consumer began to petition to the government to raise the minimum standards to prevent rollovers. However, the government never adopted the petition to raise minimum standards to prevent rollover incidents.
Over the years, sales increased for the demand of SUVs because of it is new and redesigned look. Tom Feaheny, an engineer and ex vice-president at Ford, states that I had like 12,000 people working for me and about half of them were engineers, because millions of Americans got the idea that the roughness and rugged vehicles indicated safety for SUV. However, the creation of the SUV for the consumer was intended for hunters and fisherman who needed to go off road. Another reason why the demand for the SUV was high was because in 1970s the government created tougher fuel economy laws that ruled only cars and station wagons, but SUVs were classified as trucks. So, carmakers used this law intentionally to steer families away from the traditional station wagons and into an SUV.
A computer analysis showed accidents that happened last year increased on SUV than cars. A twenty-two percent of people were killed in cars last year, whereas 62 percent of deaths showed in SUVs involved in rollovers. So Dateline investigated of how car dealers are giving information out to the consumer in regards to the rollover issue. One of the reporters went undercover to purchase an SUV and asked a salesman about the concerns of rollovers, and safety problems that appear in the vehicles. In respond to the undercover investigation, none of the salesmen who were asked about the concern of the rollover problem replied that there were no problems at all. Now the question is how can we determine the risk of rollover in a vehicle? The question was somewhat answered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, by adding a car rating system with a mathematical formula using a star rating. The rating failed because the automakers fought the idea, because it did not include the features such as the tires, suspension, and driver s behavior. As a result, Congress delayed the star rating until NHTSA could come up with a new driving test to rate rollovers.
Dateline found documents from the government showing over the years of studied of rollover accidents from car by car that were reported. It showed reports of thousand of pages written by researchers as they tried to develop the star system. These documents contained information about more than 100 popular cars and SUVs using the star rating system. As the star system rates, a 5 will be the highest rating and a 1 will be the lowest rating for a rollover. Those figures showed cars such as a 1998 Ford Taurus received a five star rating, a 1991 Honda Accord LX received five stars, 1998 Dodge Neon received four stars, and the 1998 Chevy Lumina received four stars. On the contrary, most of SUVs such as the top selling 1998 Ford Explorer received two stars, the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee got two stars, the 1998 Toyota 4Runner got two stars, and the 1998 Dodge Durango got three stars. This demonstrated that 30 percent of the SUVs have the risk of rolling over in an accident. In addition, there was something else found in the government documents about of rollovers in a fully loaded SUV. The Morales s incident or the results of the investigation of the star systems show that if a SUV is fully loaded, then vehicle become unstable because of the center of gravity. The results are that the more you put on the SUV, the more the SUV becomes unbalance. Further down into the investigation Dateline , continues their search for more answers. They continue to go to salesmen for information on SUVs with hidden cameras and found out that they are giving us information that SUVs are safer, and that the more you load on the vehicle, the safer it gets. As proven facts have shown in an Insurance Institute analysis, the overall death rate in minivans in 1998 was 90 per million registered vehicles and the death rate for SUVs was 141.
In conclusion, as researchers continue to improve the rating system and to determine the safety of all vehicles for rollover, we will be left with doubt the very same question that remains unanswered. What are the chances of your SUV rolling over and how safe are they?
v Thompson, Lea. What s your risk of Rollover? MSNBC.com/news. 26 Oct. 2000 Pg. 1-10
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