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White House Regulator Critical of SUV Safety

Jan 15, 2003 | Gannett News Service The Bush administration’s top auto safety regulator joined the growing chorus of sport utility vehicle bashers Tuesday, saying he wouldn’t drive those that scored lowest in government rollover ratings “if they were the last vehicles on Earth.”

Speaking at an auto industry conference, Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Safety Administration, chided automakers for not making SUVs as safe as passenger cars.

He noted that the popular trucks are much more likely to roll over in a single-vehicle accident and called for more work on designs and technologies that will keep them from tipping.

Runge also said NHTSA will propose guidelines this year for side airbags, which are becoming more common, especially in SUVs.

Runge said consumers must research the safety performance of vehicles, especially SUVs. He urged SUV buyers to take time to learn how to drive them and how stability control features, more common on newer models, behave in real-world driving.

“Not all SUVs are created equal, and I would urge people not to just take what salesmen have to tell them about safety features but to do their own research,” he said.

As for himself, Runge said he wouldn’t drive an SUV that scored fewer than three stars in NHTSA’s five-star rollover rating.

More than 30 of the 2002 SUVs tested by the agency earned just one or two stars, including the top-selling SUV, Ford Explorer, and other popular models such as Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota 4Runner, and Nissan Xterra.

Automakers don’t like NHTSA’s rollover ratings, which are based on wheel width and center of gravity.

“NHTSA’s current test doesn’t factor in enhancements we make to suspensions, tire size and other handling features we put into our vehicles,” General Motors spokesman Jim Schell said.

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