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Government vehicle rollover ratings misleading, confusing

Thursday, June 3, 2004
Contact: Sally Greenberg, 202-462-6262
David Pittle, 914-378-2330

NHTSA Should Overhaul Confusing Rollover Ratings System

Consumers Union Urges Senate Subcommittee to Direct Agency to Change “Consumer Unfriendly” System

(Washington, D.C.) — Consumers Union today outlined for a Senate subcommittee a litany of difficulties consumers face in trying to get rollover ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Web site.
“The rollover testing and rating program has great promise, but the system isn’t working for consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel, in comments to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competition, Foreign Commerce and Infrastructure as it reviewed landmark auto safety legislation passed in 2000.
“Rollovers are up, SUV fatalities in rollovers have increased 10 percent, and consumers need accurate and accessible information, but that information is nearly impossible to get from the agency’s Web site, and what is there is misleading or incomplete,” she added.
R. David Pittle, CU’s senior vice president for technical operations, said it makes no sense that when a vehicle tips up under NHTSA’s dynamic rollover testing program, there is no penalty in the rating the vehicle gets.
“When a vehicle tips up on two wheels during the rollover testing program, that should drop its score, but that doesn’t currently happen,” said R. David Pittle, senior vice president for technical operations. “We believe tipping up is a serious performance consideration.”
Greenberg said when the agency tested 14 vehicles, two tipped up in testing — the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the four-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma extended-cab pickup. Yet they received ratings of two stars and three stars respectively, out of a possible five stars.
“Compared with other vehicles, two and three stars might sound pretty good to most consumers,” Greenberg said. She said the way NHTSA has weighted the rollover scores masks a vehicle’s performance in the driving test.
“Finding that a vehicle has tipped by looking for it on the agency’s Web site is like finding a needle in a haystack,” Greenberg said. “We call on NHTSA to overhaul its information program so that safety conscious consumers can easily get the information they are looking for.”
Greenberg also noted that NHTSA promised in February when it released the first rollover testing results that more ratings would be released in the spring, but no additional ratings information has been produced.
To read the complete testimony, click here.