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Automakers Go to Bat for SUVs

February 25, 2003

The auto industry plans to tout new data that show sport utility vehicles are becoming less dangerous when a Senate committee examinesthe safety record of Detroit's best-selling vehicles this week, according to the Detroit News.U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., scheduled the hearing shortly after National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge made comments in January calling SUV safety into question, the News said.Officials from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and three safety groups will join Runge on Feb. 26 in testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, according to the News.Automakers plan to highlight data released earlier this month by the Insurance Institutefor Highway Safety (IIHS) that show SUV fatality rates evening out with thoseof cars. In previous studies by the institute, SUV death rates have been higher, the News said.And they will discuss new products on the horizon, such as so-called "crossover" vehicles, which combine attributes of cars andSUVs, that will be less likely to roll over than SUVs because of their lower center of gravity. Crossovers also will be less damaging to cars in collisions because they ride closer to the ground than SUVs, according to the News.The auto industry has told the NHTSA that it would try to create a voluntary standard to makeSUVs less dangerous in side and frontal crashes with cars, according to the Washington Post. "There are many details to be sorted out to make all of this happen, but there is astrong commitment to move forward expeditiously," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the IIHS said in a Feb. 13 letter to Dr. Runge, NHTSA's administrator, according to the Post.From its examination of the government's accident and fatality data, the car group concluded that many rollover fatalities could be avoided with the use of seat belts, and that SUVs were as safe as cars in the average front, side or rear crash, according to the Post.NHTSA said its interpretation of the statistics showed a higher rate of deaths in crashes involving SUVs than in cars or vans and, in general, that there are thousands more fatalities on the road annually because of the growing number of SUVs and pickup trucks.The industry effort doesn't specifically address rollovers. It focuses on what it calls the "compatibility" between SUVs and cars. The issue is how to minimize the differences in size and strength between the two classes of vehicles to reduce the chances of injury and death when larger SUVs hit cars in the side or ride over the top of them in frontalcrashes.
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