By on May 5, 2009

The Detroit News reports that the NHTSA’s upgrade of roof crush strength standards will add $1.4 billion to the cost of new cars industry-wide, but will save 135 lives per year. Based on the NHTSA’s numbers, the costs will come out to about $54 per vehicle in design costs and another $15 to $62 in added fuel costs. In other words, even the NHTSA admits that uprated roof strength tests do trade off with fuel economy.

To our list of complaints with the uprated standard (and US safety standards in general), now add this: The final regulation boosts the requirement to three times the weight for vehicles up to 6,000 pounds, but vehicles 6,000-10,000 pounds must meet a 1.5 times standard. Huh? It’s not that tiered standards are inherently bad, but why tier them by weight rather than, say, rollover risk?

The AAM, an industry lobbying group, says it “supports NHTSA’s goal of enhancing rollover safety through a comprehensive plan aimed at eliminating rollover injuries and fatalities, and enhanced roof strength is only one part of that plan.” Which is pretty tame considering even the DetN reports that “General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. essentially wrote the regulation that’s been in effect since 1973 after their fleets failed NHTSA’s first proposed standard in 1971.”

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37 Comments on “New NHTSA Rollover Rules: Now How Much Would You Pay?...”


  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Yeah, I’d say basing the standard on weight over rollover risk is absolutely ridiculous. To add all that extra support (and weight) to a car that would probably never roll in its entire lifetime just doesn’t seem to be a smart tradeoff.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    The formula is suspicious. Are those 135 lives being saved while riding in vehicles under 4500lbs or over 4500lbs? I know what my guess would be.

    Do European-sourced cars meet this standard currently?

    NTHSA has a simple cg height divided by track width figure that could be incorporated into a logical and defensible rollover crush resistance formula.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Approximately $10 million per saved life? That’s nothing; the EPA regulations on arsenic in drinking water that took effect during the last days of Clinton, cost an estimated $2 billion to $12 billion per year to reduce cancer cases by an estimated 13 per year and cancer deaths by 7 per year. Now there’s some real buck for your (minimal) bang. Afterall, you can’t put a price on a human life can you? Of course that ignores the question of how many lives could have been saved if that money had been used elsewhere and in the case of cars, shouldn’t it be my choice how much I’m willing to pay for additional safety.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    Why stop there? I have a Jeep and it’s on my list to install a $1,500 after market cage. Come on, lets require a real cage on all vehicles! Think of the children man!

  • avatar
    don1967

    Wow, this is not like adding five bucks’ worth of seat belts, is it?

    When incremental safety improvements start costing $10 million per life saved, you know that (a) vehicles are already pretty darn safe, and (b) the Democrats are in power.

    Ultimately there is a limit to what we can spend to save one human life, no matter how gory or how emotional the propaganda photos. I think we’re starting to probe those limits here.

  • avatar
    TRL

    I really think it will kill more than it saves. Already it seems most new cars have A-pillars the size of a redwood creating huge blind spots (to fit air bags?). Making them even thicker will make driving like looking out of a mail slot.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    How much does the additional weight high in the vehicle’s structure increase the chances of a rollover? Wouldn’t this potentialy increase the number injuries… even if deaths are somehow prevented by the additional structure? How big of a problem is this, really, in the bigger scheme of traffic safety?

    Would the money be better used to fund driver’s education classes so people learn to avoid accidents in the first place? And I don’t mean the ridiculous “Traffic School” one has to sit through after getting a ticket. I mean real in-the-car driver’s education for new drivers and those who repeatedly have accidents.

    Seriously, there needs to be an overriding strategy about car regulations… are our priorities fuel-efficiency, crash-worthiness, accident avoidance, saving the insurance companies money, or having profitable auto manufacturers in this country? Currently it seems that each part of the government is contradicting efforts by others.

    Even in California there is a push to increase fuel economy in the state’s fleet of new cars but there is no political will to increase the cost of gasoline at the pump, which would probably do more than regulations, IMHO based on the reaction to the fuel increases last summer, to change the mix in the fleet of cars purchased by consumers.

  • avatar
    AKM

    But don’t stronger, HEAVIER roofs mean more rollover risks?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I wonder if there is any data on the projected reduction in injuries. Head and neck injuries can leave a person alive, but severely compromised. I would like to see a casualties number in addition to a deaths number.

    It is also curious how economics is often cited as a reason not to make safety or efficiency improvements, but other things which add cost to vehicles is rarely talked about. How much has the transition to nearly everyone driving an automatic transmission cost?

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    John Horner: According to the NHTSA, injuries would be reduced by 1,065 per year with the new measures in place.

    Death is the big issue because rollovers are 3 percent of all wrecks, yet they cause a third of all auto deaths.

  • avatar
    dean

    This is ridiculous. Especially the weight cut-off. They should use a cg/track formula so that the majority of cars can stay with the 1.5 standard. Which would force the 3x standard onto SUVs and pickups, which of course would further increase the likelihood of a roll.

    Scrap the whole damn thing. Promote stability control systems on high-roll-propensity vehicles instead.

  • avatar
    GWHH

    WOW-the Goverment actually passed a car regulation that works. I remeber years ago that 10 dollors in steel would have made car rollover much less lethal. I am sure that will save more than 135 lives a year!

  • avatar
    arapaima

    It’s not like you have to just slap extra material onto the pillars to increase the strength. Steel is a fantastically flexible material with thousands of alloys each with a number of possible treatments that gets us to quite a large range of strengths that can come out of “steel”. The best part is that they have the same density more or less. There will have to be adjustments to the pressing and assembly lines, just as there would be for extra material. And it will cost extra.

    Other options include structural changes, use less material but use it in a stronger, more efficient design. You’ll probably come out ahead in terms of weight if you throw style to the wind. You could increase the amount of welding on the frame at the pillars (use a roll weld rather than a spot weld; same theory, just continuous).

    The point is, simply slapping extra material on would be a pretty half-a**ed way to go about doing the job. Car companies have engineers who are plenty smart enough to figure this out without having a significant impact on your everyday life.

  • avatar
    don1967

    I really think it will kill more than it saves. Already it seems most new cars have A-pillars the size of a redwood creating huge blind spots (to fit air bags?). Making them even thicker will make driving like looking out of a mail slot.

    Good point actually. Sometimes our effort to bolster safety only increases the odds that it will be needed. Thick roof pillars which reduce visibility are one example. Another is the increased risk-taking behaviour that often results when drivers get used to ABS and stability control systems.

    I wonder what would happen if we took away all the modern safety gadgets, made cars out of egg shells, and put a big yellow sticker on every steering wheel that said “WARNING: THIS CAR EXPLODES ON IMPACT”.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Off topic, but similar in logic:

    How much money is spent to preserve one UAW job for one year? $1M?

    Can that same amount of money be spent elsewhere and actually save/create more jobs?

  • avatar
    NBK-Boston

    If rollovers cause ~10,000 fatalities annually (according to the article), and this regulation is expected to save only 135 lives per year, my question is: What are we missing? Is there no better way to address the problem of rollover crashes than by chipping away at it, expensively, in really small increments?

  • avatar
    menno

    I have a colleage (female, if it matters) who ended up rolling an SUV, and she remarked to me “I was so shocked – these vehicles were sold as being SAFER!”

    Generally typical of non-auto-minded people believing the hype/drinking the marketing kool-aid.

    She ended up with a Honda 4 door pickup, which is tall but has a good, low center of gravity. I mentioned this and she said – yes it is much more road-friendly than was her Tahoe (which flopped).

    I said “the Honda is built like an egg, the Tahoe was built like a bridge” (I was trying to explain unitbody vs. frame-body construction) “and therefore the mechanical bits are lower, giving you a lower center of gravity – and less chance of flipping.”

    She got it.

  • avatar

    so basically it boils down to the cost of $1,000,000 per life.

  • avatar
    BDB

    Excuse me if I don’t foam at the mouth over a cost of $80 or so a car.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Edward Niedermeyer :

    Death is the big issue because rollovers are 3 percent of all wrecks, yet they cause a third of all auto deaths.

    That could be made more accurate:

    Death is the big issue because degenerates who don’t wear seat belts during rollovers are almost 3 percent of all wrecks, yet they cause a third of all auto deaths.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    BDB – If you use the 10000 deaths by rollover per year figure and you reduce those deaths by only 1.35%, then this is not very effective, independent of cost per unit. You are asking new car buyers to flush $80 down the toilet, for all the real good it does. Plus, it appears that the heaviest light vehicles, probably the most susceptible to rollover, get a mulligan. The worst part about this non-fix fix is that the standards may not be addressed again for decades – the current regulation dates from 1973. If you are worried about rollover right now, don’t buy an SUV or light truck. If you do buy one, drive it slower than the people in cars are driving. If you drive it fast, it’s your choice and your personal responsibility.

  • avatar
    A is A

    Come on, lets require a real cage on all vehicles! Think of the children man!

    If you have a cage, you need helmeted passengers, as in a race car (If you are unhelmeted in a caged car, the cage can kill you in case of crash)

    Wait!. It has been proposed…

    http://images.google.es/images?hl=en&um=1&sa=1&q=Casr+headband&btnG=Search+Images&aq=f&oq=

  • avatar
    meefer

    $54? Oh noes! That’s going to crush my dreams of owning a GTR and force me into a…..wait no it isn’t.

  • avatar
    BDB

    chuckR–

    I don’t really give a crap about this one way or the other. I mean, it would cost me the equivalent of a night at the bar.

    Oh noes! Bankruptcy!

  • avatar
    chuckR

    BDB – that misses the point entirely. Why should I spend 4 Jacksons on something that is essentially useless? $80 here, $80 there, another and another for show without effect, after a while you’ll have to stay sober….

  • avatar
    BDB

    “BDB – that misses the point entirely. Why should I spend 4 Jacksons on something that is essentially useless? ”

    I dunno, because it saves 135 lives?

    It’s a minimal benefit, yeah, but its also a minimal cost. When you frame it was “$10 million per life” it sounds silly, when its “$80 a car” it doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable. Especially since if $80 is going to break the bank, you probably shouldn’t be buying a new car!

  • avatar
    mach1

    TTAC addressed this issue a few years back.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/the-counterintuitive-truth-about-roof-crush-standards/

    “real world experience didn’t validate the roof crush standard’s original premise. Passengers in convertibles during rollover accidents were not killed in any greater numbers than occupants of cars that met NHTSA’s roof crush standard”

    Your government at work!!

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Maybe we should mandate taking $12 of steel out of each roof to save the cost of living with people who don’t wear seat belts.

    Smokers, mostly, I would imagine.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I’m w/ John Horner…

    My dad was a board member with AAA. I remember him once saying that insurance companies are not afraid of deaths … that is relatively easy to pay out. Rather, one has to consider the ocst of the survivors, all the way from those with minor injuries to those in comas, to those para-/quadra-pelegic injuries, to those requiring 24-hour care…

    Cost per life saved vastly, and incorrectly, oversimplifies the benefits from better roofs…

    p.s. Boron steel costs more, but is only marginally heavier than weak steels, and for the most part, this is only needed in the pillars, and header beam … (down-side here is the A-pillar blind-spot angle grows due to chubbier pillars…)

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Oh, and one more thing, the EDT (Engineering, Development & Testing) on-cost for new pillar design is specious and suspicious … ask yourself the question … (most other things being equal,) “does it cost more to design a plane-jane car than a prettier one?”

  • avatar
    chuckR

    BDB

    Welcome to cost benefit analysis. $5 fixes the Ford Pinto exploding gas tank and might have saved several hundred lives. $2 buys the belt reinforcement to 4 Firestone tires for Ford Explorers that might have prevented or mitigated blowout/rollovers and the fatalities. $80 per vehicle saves 135 lives per year, except the proposed regs exclude the very vehicles most likely to need the rollover reinforcement. The question ought to be – is there a better way to spend $80 per vehicle and save more lives, given that this reg only makes about a 1% difference in rollover fatalities and 1/4% in overall fatalities?
    I suspect the government would save more lives by requiring all light trucks/suvs/vans to meet the mileage standard us car owners have to meet. That would lead to fewer heavy high cg vehicles, going slower. Doing that would take more balls than the entire federal government possesses.

  • avatar
    VerbalKint

    Death is the big issue because rollovers are 3 percent of all wrecks, yet they cause a third of all auto deaths.

    Anybody know in what percentage of the fatalities the person was not wearing a seatbelt? It seems in a lot of the rollover deaths I recall the person was ejected from the vehicle.

  • avatar
    BDB

    The question ought to be – is there a better way to spend $80 per vehicle and save more lives, given that this reg only makes about a 1% difference in rollover fatalities and 1/4% in overall fatalities?

    Now that is a good point, I heartily endorse applying the same mileage standards to light trucks as are done to cars (since at this point they’re used like regular vehicles 99.9% of the time, anyway. It’s not the ’70s anymore!)

  • avatar
    MBella

    I don’t have a problem adding $60 to the price of my new car to prevent 135 deaths. The problem is like others have said, with the huge pillar deaths will likely increase.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    VerbalKint : Anybody know in what percentage of the fatalities the person was not wearing a seatbelt?

    Those don’t count as auto deaths. They’re listed as natural selection deaths.

    Just kidding, though I wish I wasn’t.

  • avatar
    niky

    dean :
    May 5th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    This is ridiculous. Especially the weight cut-off. They should use a cg/track formula so that the majority of cars can stay with the 1.5 standard. Which would force the 3x standard onto SUVs and pickups, which of course would further increase the likelihood of a roll.

    Scrap the whole damn thing. Promote stability control systems on high-roll-propensity vehicles instead.

    I like this idea better…

    Or maybe they should focus on making the cars lighter, to bring the roofs into standard.

  • avatar

    the money isn’t the problem folks

    its adding all that extra weight to the top of the vehicle.

    this destroys vehicle dynamics.

    this is why I hate sunroofs. Get a god damned convertible if you want some sun.

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