AAJ Demands NHTSA Remove Preemption from Roof Crush Rules

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AAJ Demands NHTSA Remove Preemption from Roof Crush Rules: Agency continues to defy Congressional intent

For Immediate Release: March 27, 2008

Contact:  Cecelia Prewett
202.965.3500, x369

Washington, DC—American Association for Justice (AAJ) today sent comments to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demanding the agency remove the roof crush resistance rule’s preemption language.

“The rule attempts to override all other safety determinations of state and federal courts, and shows how a federal agency works on behalf of the powerful automobile industry at the expense of public safety,” said AAJ President Kathleen Flynn Peterson.

The preemption language in the rule has already sparked criticism from U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy. A senior NHTSA official involved in the crafting of the roof crush rule later told the media that the preemption issue had been handled in a way, “different from how we normally operated… [The rule] was dropped in from out of the blue.”

Prior to releasing an updated rule in 2005, NHTSA had not upgraded its standard for roof strength since 1971. Currently, 10,000 people die and 24,000 people are injured in vehicle rollover accidents. Instead of acting to significantly reduce injuries, NHTSA proposed a weak roof crush standard that, according to their own estimates, may save an additional 13 to 44 people. The proposed rule went on to explicitly state that injured people should not be able to hold manufacturers accountable for defective products that otherwise meet this low standard.

“Just this month, an independent safety report found that more than 200 deaths could have been prevented if certain SUVs had stronger roofs,” said Peterson. “The bottom line is we want people to be safe, and if corporations won’t take steps to strengthen the safety of their product, then we want people to have justice in the courtroom.”

The 1971 rule measures the pressure to only one side of the vehicle’s roof and requires a weak strength to weight ratio, failing to account for the real world consequences of a rollover which would impact both the driver and passenger sides of a vehicle. This rule also only applies to vehicles that weigh less than 6,000 pounds.

In addition to this rule, NHTSA has a pattern of ignoring clear congressional intent through preemption and protecting companies over consumers. Examples include:

  • In 2007, NHTSA issued safety rules regarding door locks, electronic stability control, head restraints, tire pressure monitoring systems, occupant crash protection, side impact protection, electric-powered vehicles, brake hoses, and fuel system integrity, all of which suddenly sought to preempt state common law product liability claims involving these important safety mechanisms.

  • In 2008, NHTSA continued this trend seeking to preempt state law regarding lamps and reflective devices, school bus crash protection, and child restraint systems.

For a copy of AAJ’s comments, please contact Communications at 202.965.3500, x369.

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