Anti-rollover rules unveiled

Electronic control set for '12 models

April 06, 2007|By The Detroit News

NEW YORK -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled its final rule yesterday requiring automakers to install anti-rollover technology - called electronic stability control - on all vehicles by the 2012 model year.

The regulation applies to all vehicles under 10,000 pounds and generally isn't opposed by automakers.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. announced last year that they would beat NHTSA's deadline by one year. Currently, stability control is in about 40 percent of 2007 model vehicles and 90 percent of SUVs - up from just 29 percent of all 2006 model year vehicles.

The systems currently are more likely to be in luxury vehicles than in some entry-level sedans.

"This technology will save thousands of lives. Like air bags and seat belts, 10 years down the road we will look back at the new ESC technology and wonder how we ever drove a car without it," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

The NHTSA notes that rollovers account for 2 percent of crashes, but 40 percent of occupant deaths. The agency said the technology could reduce rollovers by 84 percent and save between 5,300 and 10,300 lives when it's widespread. It also could prevent up to 238,000 serious injuries a year and reduce passenger car rollovers by 71 percent, the administration said, adding that the control system could reduce all single-vehicle SUV crashes by 59 percent and 34 percent for passenger cars.

Using a series of sensors, ESC automatically corrects when a vehicle is about to go out of control by using computer-controlled braking of individual wheels.

The final regulation requires automakers' systems to pass tests at 50 miles per hour. Vehicles also must carry indicator lights on the dashboards to warn drivers if the ESC system isn't working. Unlike most government safety regulations, NHTSA is requiring some specific equipment rather than a performance standard.

The agency says adding ESC to vehicles that don't have it will cost the industry $985 million. Electronic stability control will cost automakers $111 per vehicle with anti-lock braking systems. The rule essentially requires manufacturers to add ABS to all vehicles. By 2011 93 percent of vehicles were set to have ABS anyway, NHTSA notes.

And NHTSA says the regulation's benefits far outweigh the costs, noting it could prevent up to $450 million in property damage alone, excluding the lives saved and injuries prevented.

The agency noted that ESC is one aspect of its comprehensive plan to address rollovers - though it has been studying roof strength since 1991 without issuing a final regulation. Its current regulation was essentially written by Ford and GM in the early 1970s.

In August 2005, NHTSA issued a proposal to upgrade the strength of vehicle roofs - in order to protect belted occupants in rollovers from being killed or injured if the roof caves in or is crushed. NHTSA's proposal has come under fire from safety advocates who say it is far too weak and from automakers who want NHTSA to water down its proposal on a number of fronts.

For all-terrain vehicles, manufacturers may include an ESC on/off switch, because in some circumstances, off-road drivers may want to turn it off. DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, which makes Jeeps, sought that in the regulation.

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