Light trucks pose greater risk, panel says Regulators, engineers cite rollovers after crashes


DEARBORN, Mich. -- Sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickups -- so-called light trucks -- pose serious safety problems to their occupants while increasing the risk for other drivers on the road, said auto industry regulators and engineers at a two-day conference that ended here yesterday.

Sport utility vehicles, which many Americans buy partly because they seem safer than cars in collisions between the two, roll over so often that their occupants are just as likely to die in an accident as car occupants, a prominent researcher said.

Most of these rollovers are caused by collisions with other vehicles, curbs and other objects, and not by swerving, two federal officials said.

Brakes on light trucks, which now account for one of every two family vehicles sold, are generally not as effective as car brakes, partly because federal safety standards for trucks are slightly more lenient than those for cars, a leading brake engineer said.

Large sport utility vehicles and pickups account for an unusually large share of pedestrian deaths, apparently because of their weaker brakes and lack of maneuverability, a senior regulator said.

Meanwhile, sport utility vehicles are nearly three times as likely as cars to kill the drivers of other vehicles during collisions, said Thomas Hollowell, a top researcher at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Regulators and insurers are becoming much more interested in the dangers posed by light trucks, to the dismay of auto executives, who worry that their most profitable models could soon be subject to tighter regulations or higher insurance rates.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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