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Stronger Car Roofs Could Save Lives In Rollovers, Safety Group Says

Mar 31, 2005 | AP

A safety advocacy group, citing a report made public in a lawsuit involving Ford Motor Co., contended Wednesday that stronger car roofs and other design improvements could save lives in rollover accidents.

Ford said it had not read the study by a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but said strengthening roofs would not further protect people.

The report by Martha Bidez examined tests conducted by Ford that were released as part of a Florida lawsuit involving a 26-year-old woman killed in a rollover accident while driving a Ford Explorer.

Bidez said catastrophic injuries to the head and spinal cord and death result when a roof is crushed in a rollover. Stronger roofs would have better resist being crushed, thus saving lives, she said.

"Strengthening roofs and installing other basic safety devices, such as side head air bags, safety glass and pre-tensioned belts, is the only way to save lives in rollover crashes," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, the group that announced the study's findings.

"If the roofs didn't collapse in a rollover crash, the people in the vehicle have a far better chance of surviving," she said.

The government's auto safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is expected to issue new requirements this year about roof strength.

Ford took issue with Bidez's work. "It appears to be based on previous material prepared by Martha Bidez, which is seriously flawed, unscientific, and it misinterprets the data she is relying on," the company said in a statement.

"Simply strengthening the roof won't improve the safety of SUVs and other passenger vehicles in rollovers," the company said. "Years of testing show strengthening the roof will not affect the outcome of the crash for the simple reason that the injury mechanics are not related to how much the roof is deformed in a rollover crash."

Safety groups say that when a roof is crushed, it makes safety belts less likely to work and the occupant is more likely to be ejected from the vehicle.

The study was based on tests released in a Jacksonville, Fla., lawsuit in which Claire Duncan died in a May 2001 rollover crash along Interstate 95 in Virginia.

The Florida jury ruled on March 18 that the Explorer's roof was defective. Ford was ordered to pay Duncan's husband $10.2 million for economic damages, pain and suffering. Ford has said it plans to appeal the verdict.

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