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Deficient Roof Strength Results in Deaths and Injuries in Rollover Accidents

More than 10,000 people die each year in rollover crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Many rollover deaths could have been prevented if the roof of the vehicle had been stronger. When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground and can deform and crush inward toward the driver and passengers. Stronger roofs also can prevent occupants from being ejected through windows, windshields, or doors that have broken or opened because the roof has deformed.

Cars have been built to meet the same roof crush standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216, since 1973. It requires that the roof be able to withstand a force of 1.5 times the weight of the car. The rule was extended in 1994 to include all passenger vehicles up to a gross weight rating of 6,000 pounds. However, many SUVs and pickups are heavier, and thus exempt from the Federal Safety Standard.

Many rollover deaths could have been prevented if the roof of the vehicle had been stronger.

IIHS compared roof crush tests of 11 older mid-size SUVs with death and injury statistics from 12 states from 1997-2005. It found that the vehicles with the strongest roofs had lower injury and lower death rates than SUVs with weaker roofs. The SUVs tested were manufactured by Ford, Nissan, Chrysler, General Motors, Mitsubishi and Toyota. Of the vehicles tested, the weakest roofs found were those of the 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, which caved in under about one and a half times its own weight.

In a subsequent examination in 2009 of 12 small SUVs, the IIHS found the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson earned the lowest ratings, and roof strength on the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner was rated as only marginal.