In the 1980s, it became apparent that vehicle rollovers were becoming an increasing problem. That same year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released data showing that utility vehicles were five times more likely to rollover than other passenger cars. The main reason behind this was the stability of the utility vehicles—worsened by the poor relationship between an SUV's center of gravity and vehicle width.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) corroborated the noted dangers of SUV stability and the hazards of rollovers when they released the following data:
- In 2003, more than 280,000 vehicles rolled over
- Of that number, 20% resulted in fatalities
- More than 170,000 injuries were sustained as a result
- Death & injuries were twice as high in SUV vs. passenger cars
Despite these staggering statistics—and the constant increase of SUVS on the road—there still has not been an established standard for vehicle stability. Over the last 25+ years, debate has raged over the best way in which to measure said stability, but no concrete steps have been made to actually standardize it. This fight has been made all the harder by manufacturers who hope such regulation never sees the light of day.
Rollover Stability Standards & Regulations
The attempts to mitigate the dangers of rollovers have been around since 1970, when the predecessor to the NHTSA tried to implement rollover compliance. Per this amendment, all new vehicles would be required to complete a test where they would be rolled over twice at speeds between 30 and 60 mph. During this test, all windows would be required to be open and the test dummies must remain within the vehicle.
This was met with heavy resistance by manufacturers who argued that because all rollovers are different, there is no possible way one system could be built that would be efficient in them all. They also argued that this inconsistency in accidents made it so the proposed tests would have results that could not be reproduced. However, the NHTSA proved that these tests actually had a high repeatability and were reliably accurate.
In the following year, a final rule was issued by NHTSA requiring all passenger vehicles manufactured on or after August 1975 and all utility vehicles and light trucks manufactured on or after August 1977 to comply with the dolly rollover requirements. This was followed by a new standard (FMVSS 216) that addressed the problem of roof crush; per this standard, all roofs would need to meet a minimum strength requirement.
During the 1980s, the approach of addressing poor automobile design changed and federal agencies began to tackle the problem of driver behavior causing serious rollover accidents. In 1982, a warning label requirement was proposed that would be required on all vehicles used for off-roading; it was finalized two years later. This, however, did not solve the problem and even 10 years later, off-road rollover rates were still increasing.
How Stability Values Affect Rollover Rates
During that same decade, a new study was released with groundbreaking data:
- Vehicles with low stability values were more likely to have fatal rollovers
- Low stability values were associated with high crash rates
- Other major risk factors did not affect the two findings above
This study led to the Static Stability Factor, which is calculated by taking half of a vehicle's width and dividing it by its center of gravity. The lower that number, the more likely a vehicle is to rollover.
1990s: Continued Focused on Consumer Warnings
In the decade after, government agencies continued their focus on educating consumers as a way to avoid rollovers rather than address the vehicle design itself. In fact, in 1996, the agency released a status report that said because rollovers were so complex, there was no way that they could be completely eliminated; per this report, the only way to reduce the accidents would be through a multi-faceted approach.
Since then, very little headway has been made in developing a stability standard. In 1994, the NHTSA announced that they were dropping development; however, they announced a proposal for certain vehicles to require a rollover resistance label. The agency followed this up with further tests that would measure vehicle stability better than the Static Stability Factor. The first phase began in 1997. Further testing and reports were released during the rest of the decade, but there was little activity in regards to regulations.
Despite the low regulatory activity, a final rule was published in 1999 regarding consumer warnings on multi-purpose vehicles with a wheelbase of 110 inches or less. Per this rule, these vehicles would be required to carry a brightly colored label either on their sun visor or driver's window with specific wording.
Roll Stability & the New Car Assessment Program
In vein with the efforts to increase consumer education, NHTSA began to utilize roll stability in their New Car Assessment Program by adding rollover ratings to all new cars starting in the new millennia. Each new car would be given a rating on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 star going to vehicles with a Static Stability Factor of 1.04 or less and 5 stars going to vehicles with a Static Stability Factor of 1.45. The idea was that by providing this information to consumers, they would be more likely to purchase vehicles with a high rating, which in turn would encourage manufacturers to produce vehicles that were less likely to rollover.
Despite decades of effort, however, rollover accidents are still an ongoing and persistent problem. If you or a loved one has been injured in such an accident, we encourage you to contact our law firm today.