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Products Liability > Vehicle Roof Caving

According to federal statistics, approximately 7,000 people each year are killed or severely injured in vehicle accidents in which the roof crushes or caves in. Detroit’s top automakers have fought costly upgrades to a 33-year-old roof-strength standard, even while their own European operations build and test stronger roofs. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. essentially drafted the regulation as it stands.

In 1971, the automakers led an industry wide effort to convince federal officials to adopt a minimum standard for roof strength, but only after their vehicle fleets failed the government’s first proposed test, according to internal corporate documents examined by The Detroit News. “It’s been known for quite some time that this is a standard that needs updating,” NHTSA Chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge told The News.

Juries in Texas, California and Nebraska have repeatedly rejected Big Three-backed studies that deny a link between crushed roofs and injuries. Safety groups have stepped up their campaign for a new roof-strength standard with new verdicts that have come in, including a $225 million verdict against Ford in a roof crush case.

The NHTSA is looking hard at recent crash data to establish a direct relationship between collapsing roofs and catastrophic injuries. In filings with NHTSA, GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler contend there is no need for new standards. NHTSA publishes safety ratings based on frontal- and side-impact crash tests, but consumers don’t know how their vehicle’s roof will react until it literally occurs.

“Some manufacturers take weight out to reduce their strength-to-weight ratios down closer to the minimum,” said Steve Forrest, senior engineer of the firm Safety Analysis and Forensic Engineering, which advises plaintiffs in lawsuits against automakers. European manufacturers, including GM’s Saab and Opel units, employ high-strength steel to improve the strength of roofs.

A strong roof or roll bar is necessary to maintain an occupant's survival space in a rollover accident, so that when the roof hits the ground, intrusion or collapse of the roof will be limited. SUVs can roll over after taking side-impacts at low speeds and after certain maneuvers and corrections.

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Vehicle Roof Caving
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