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SUVs ranked for rollover safety


SUVs ranked for rollover safety

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SUVs ranked for rollover safety
New government ratings give No. 1 ranking to Chrysler Pacifica.
August 9, 2004
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The 4-wheel drive Chrysler Pacifica received the top ranking among all 2004 model year sport/utility vehicles that have been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new, more detailed, roll-over ratings. The new rating system was announced today.

The Nissan Quest is the most stable minivan, according to NHTSA's new ratings and the 2-wheel drive Chevrolet Silverado extended cab is the most stable pick-up. The most stable 2004 passenger car that has been rated is the Mazda RX-8.

Most, but not all, 2004 vehicles have been rated for rollover. For details on those that have been rated, go to NHTSA's Website.

The 4-wheel drive Pacifica has a 13 percent chance of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash, according to NHTSA. Auto shopping Websites also classify the Pacifica as a station wagon or a minivan. Unlike SUVs, as they are commonly defined, the Pacifica is not designed for off-road driving, according to Chrysler.

NHTSA followed Chrysler's suggestion in classifying it as an SUV, however, said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.

The 2-wheel drive Ford Explorer SportTrac was the lowest-rated SUV, with a 35 percent chance of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash. Ford has previously contended that NHTSA's low stability rating for the SportTrac does not reflect the vehicle's real-world performance.

Other top-rated SUVs are the Nissan Murano and the Honda Pilot. Among the lowest-rated, or least stable, SUVs are the Mercury Mountaineer, GMC Yukon and 2-wheel drive Ford Explorer.

Previously, NHTSA had used a five-star rating system to measure an SUV's tendency to roll over in a crash. The system covered all types of vehicles, not just SUVs, and SUVs overwhelmingly tended to have three-star ratings. Of the 28 SUV that had been rated before today, 20 had three star ratings and just one, the 2-wheel SportTrac, had a two-star rating. Seven had four star ratings.

SUVs overwhelmingly tended to have three-star ratings. Of the 28 SUVs that had been rated before today, 20 had three-star ratings and just one, the 2-wheel drive Ford Explorer SportTrac, had a two-star rating. Seven had four-star ratings.

A four-star rating means that an SUV has a 10 to 20 percent chance of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash. Three- and two-star ratings correlate to 20-to-30 and 30-to-40 percent odds of a rollover, respectively.

Far too vague?

The star-rating system had been criticized by auto safety advocates as being far too vague.

To make it easier to distinguish among SUVs, NHTSA will now rank vehicles of the same type. That way, consumers will be able to see which SUVs -- even those that currently have the same star ratings -- are less likely to roll over than others.

"That's a step in the right direction," said R. David Pittle, senior vice president for technical policy for Consumers Union, the organization that publishes the magazine Consumer Reports. Pittle has previously called for changes to the way NHTSA reports the results of SUV stability tests. He was interviewed prior to the public release of the new ratings system.

"The reason we are emphasizing this issue so much is still because this is a problem that continues to produce about a third of our occupant fatalities every year," said Dr. Jeffrey Runge, head of NHTSA, "even though they are less than three percent of our crashes,"

The ratings are based, primarily, on a figure called the Static Stability Factor, which is calculated from a vehicle's width and the height of the center of its mass. The higher the Static Stability Factor, the less likely a vehicle is to tip over.

Vehicles with lower Static Stability Factors, including all SUVs, are also put through a driving test called the Dynamic Stability test, which consists of a series of abrupt turns at increasing speeds.

Vehicles that can complete the maneuver while keeping at least three wheels on the ground at speeds up to 50 miles per hour are given a passing grade. Those that fail could have their star rating reduced by one star.

Most SUVs have passed NHTSA's Dynamic Stability Test. Pittle and other safety advocates have said that the dynamic test should play a larger role in the ratings and details of the test results, such as the speed at which the vehicle tipped, should be publicly released.

Ron DeFore, director of communications for SUV Owners of America, warned against relying too much on these ratings.

"The best way to determine the safety record is to look at the actual crash data from the government and from insurance agencies," he said in an interview before the release of the new NHTSA ratings.

In real-world crash statistics, large SUVs generally have lower-than-average occupant fatality rates.

Nearly three-quarters of those killed in rollover accidents are not wearing seatbelts, Runge pointed out.

DeFore said his organization will be starting a campaign to educate SUV drivers about the importance of seatbelt use.

CNN Newsource Consumer Correspondent Julie Vallese contributed to this story.

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