Roof strength on SUVs cause for safety concern?

Let me say first that the model they use in the story is the same SUV I currently drive, but mine is white and possibly a little older.  That said, here’s the story – the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued a report on roof strength of SUVs, and they find the results not the least bit comforting.  The IIHS believes improved roof strength will reduce injuries and fatalities in rollover crashes and has results of their tests available for concerned consumers looking to still buy a gas guzzler but wanting to remain as safe as possible.

By testing the roofs of 11 sport utility vehicles, then looking at the deaths and injury rates in accidents, the institute found that the stronger the roof was, the less likelihood of injury or death.

. . .

Rollovers account for about one-quarter of those who die in car crashes, but SUVs that are higher off the ground than other vehicles are particularly prone to rollovers. The study contends that stronger roofs, like the one on the 2000 Nissan Xterra, could cut injury risk by a third in single-vehicle SUV rollover crashes.

Automakers contend that roof strength improvements will not do anything to safety numbers, but the IIHS disagrees.  I can conceive that the automakers are right – overall safety design is probably more important than roof strength and the cars with the better safety ratings may achieve that by overall design and not just roof strength.  However, it’s hard for me to imagine that the roof strength could be improved without improving the safety overall design just because I know any change to the design has to be checked for consistency with all other design considerations.

This isn’t to indicate any of these vehicles fail to meet federally mandated safety requirements.  It’s that the IIHS believes the mandates are not strict enough.

The current standard requires vehicles to withstand 1½ times the weight of the vehicle before crushing five inches. The administration would like to require passenger vehicles to withstand 2½ times its weight instead. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that’s still not good enough, and argues a passenger vehicle should be able to withstand three times its weight when it rolls over.

As an owner of the SUV that received the lowest roof strength rating, I’m all for improving it.  But as with anything in design, I wonder what will the price be for any improvements?  These businesses have to factor in how much it will increase manufacturing costs for improve safety, how much of that can be passed on to consumers, and where will the dollars go from the edge-case buyers who would buy at the current price but not at any higher price.  It sucks for those only concerned with safety, and sure some people will throw up the “What cost human life?” question, but we all have finite resources, and these changes have to be considered.

So how much would you pay for more safety?  If it cost $100 for a roof with twice the collapse strength you currently have, would you?  What if it cost $1000 more?  How about an increase that cost $500 and cut fuel efficiency 5%?  Where does the trade-off become too much for you?

[tags]SUV, IIHS, Safety, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety[/tags]