U.S. Issues Rollover Ratings for Passenger Vehicles

The government unveiled Tuesday its first rating of passenger cars’ resistance to rollover accidents, a measure of stability decried as too narrow by some in the auto industry.

Only one vehicle among three dozen 2001 models tested, the four-door Honda Accord, received the top rating of five stars. The lowest rating of one star was given to two sport utility vehicles: the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy/Envoy four-door 4X4 models.

Several passenger cars, two light trucks — the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra ExCab 4X4 models — and two vans — Honda Odyssey and Chrysler PT Cruiser — achieved four-star status.

By checking the comparative rollover risks, consumers “will be better able to choose a safe vehicle for themselves and their family,” Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said in releasing the ratings. “By providing consumers with additional information, we can motivate manufacturers to respond with safer, more stable vehicles.”

But the government system is likely to meet resistance from industry. Harry Pearce, vice chairman of General Motors Corp., said he had not seen the ratings but called the five-star system too simplistic and perhaps “misleading to consumers.”

Pearce said the ratings fail to account for such factors as a vehicle’s suspension and tires, and driver behavior.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which put together the rating program, said over 60 percent of the SUV occupants killed in 1999 died in rollover crashes. By comparison, 23 percent of car occupants killed died when their vehicles rolled over.

Rollover accidents are believed to kill more than 10,000 people in the U.S. each year.

Ratings Standards

The ratings are based on what NHTSA calls “static stability factor,” a measure of a vehicle’s center of gravity and track width — or distance between rear tires — to determine how top-heavy the vehicle is. The more top-heavy, the more likely a vehicle is to roll over.

Top-heavy sport utility vehicles are more likely than smaller passenger cars to get a lower rating. In this initial listing, no SUV rated higher than three stars.

The rating system does not predict the likelihood of a crash. Rather, it estimates the risk of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash, usually when the vehicle runs off the road and is tripped by a curb, ditch or soft soil.

A five-star rating means a vehicle has a rollover risk of less than 10 percent. With four stars, the risk is between 10 percent and 20 percent; three stars, 20 percent to 30 percent; two stars, between 30 percent and 40 percent; and one star, greater than 40 percent.

By April NHTSA expects to have ratings for more than 80 model-year 2001 vehicles.

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