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New Auto Tests Focus On Rollovers

So far, 68 cars, trucks, SUVs and vans have been put through their paces. Ford Explorer Sport Trac has the worst rating

Aug 10, 2004 | USA TODAY

U.S. auto safety officials published the first specific rollover scores for cars and trucks yesterday, answering criticism that the government's safety scores of one to five stars are too general to help consumers.

The Mazda RX-8 sports car is best, having only an 8 percent chance of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash. Worst is Ford Explorer Sport Trac two-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says has a 34.8 percent chance of rolling.

Rollovers are only 3 percent of accidents, but cause about one-third of traffic deaths, according to NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge. He says automakers have a "corporate responsibility" to reduce rollovers.

At the same time, Runge says safety belts would prevent most rollover deaths. About 75 percent of those who die in rollovers are unbelted, he says, and about 80 percent of those would live if belted, according to Runge.

NHTSA scores only 68 2004-model cars and trucks, out of about 300 on sale. The agency ranks 36 SUVs, 20 cars, eight pickups, four minivans - models NHTSA thinks people are likely to buy. Popular vehicles missing from the list could be tested next year.


SUV Chrysler Pacifica four-wheel drive, 13 percent

Pickup Chevrolet and GMC full-size, two-wheel-drive models, 15.9 percent

Minivan Nissan Quest, 12.1 percent


Pickup Toyota Tacoma extended cab, four-wheel-drive, 28.3 percent

Minivan: Toyota Sienna, 15.9 percent

Car Subaru Legacy Outback, 15.5 percent

To calculate the chance of rolling over, NHTSA combines results of its emergency-swerve tests with a mathematical formula that takes into account a vehicle's height, width and center of gravity.

Vehicles that tipped onto two wheels during the swerve test were penalized 3 to 5 percentage points. Tacoma and several SUVs, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon four-wheel drive, did tip.

Consumer advocates had complained that NHTSA's star ratings were too general, not differentiating between, for example, a model that barely earned four stars and one that nearly got five, the top rating. NHTSA will continue to use stars, and augment them with the rollover-possibility percentages.

Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA chief who heads the consumer group Public Citizen, says the new ratings are an improvement, and they should be posted on the vehicle's price sticker. Claybrook says she'd also like a letter grade - A to F, as in school - to make it quickly obvious how a vehicle ranks.

Though some Ford Motor and Toyota vehicles score poorly, spokeswomen for both companies say the vehicles have better real-world crash-safety records than the NHTSA numbers suggest.


Best and worst performers among 2004 vehicles tested so far.* A five-star rating is the highest for the test, which measures the chances of a vehicle rolling over in a severe crash.

Vehicle Stars Chance of rollover (as a percentage)
Passenger Cars
Best: Mazda RX-8 ***** 8
Worst: Subaru Outback wagon **** 15.5
Pickup trucks
Best: Chevrolet Silverado 4x2 **** 15.9
Worst: Toyota Tacoma 4x4 *** 28.3
Sport Utility Vehicles
Best: Chrysler Pacifica 4x4 **** 13
Worst: Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4x2 ** 34.8
Best: Nissan Quest **** 12.1
Worst: Toyota Sienna **** 15.9

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