WASHINGTON - December 5 - General Motors’ announcement today that it is opening a new safety lab to conduct dynamic, or simulated real-world, rollover crash tests and that it is offering rollover-enabled side curtain airbags is a positive sign that GM acknowledges the need for new vehicle designs to protect people in rollover crashes. Rollover crashes kill 10,800 and injure more than 16,000 people annually.
In its announcement, GM admits that it has been conducting dynamic rollover tests for more than 30 years using a dolly rollover test, which is an optional test in airbag standard No. 208. GM conducts its dolly rollover test with vehicles pulled sideways on a platform at a 23-degree angle. The new facility has the capacity to conduct additional types of rollover tests that simulate crashes experienced by drivers on the highway.
The auto companies, including GM, for years have objected to the prospect of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issuing a dynamic rollover crash test to assure the safety of vehicles when a rollover occurs. Yet GM announced today the installation of rollover-enabled side curtain airbags that must be tested in a dynamic crash test. The agency is currently engaged in rulemaking to upgrade the existing 1971 static roof crush test standard, where pressure is simply applied to one side of the roof. But the agency to date has bowed to auto industry pressure and has issued only a proposed static standard involving more pressure. Today’s announcement makes it clear that the industry is well prepared to do the kind of testing necessary under a government dynamic test standard. The Volvo XC-90 SUV manufactured since 2003 is an example of a vehicle that protects passengers in rollover crashes. It was designed using dynamic testing.
GM neglected to say whether the information gleaned from this facility will be released to inform the public of vehicle performance. GM does mention the importance of seat belts but does not say whether it will offer rollover pretensioned seat belts (those that have been locked in place) in all its vehicles. Although there is no existing safety standard for seat belts in rollover crashes, the strength of the roof and the performance of the belts are the most critical safety protections in these crashes. Until these deficiencies are also addressed, drivers and passengers will continue to be put at risk of death or serious injury on our highways.
* Joan Claybrook was administrator of NHTSA from 1977-1981.