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Cars' rollover risk low
February 13, 2001: 4:29 p.m. ET

New rankings add Toyota Camry, large Ford sedans to Accord's top rating
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - New ratings from safety regulators show that the Toyota Camry, the nation's best-selling car, and three full-size sedans from Ford Motor Co. are among the safest vehicles in terms of rollover risks.

graphicThe ratings from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Tuesday assessed the risk of a rollover in a single-vehicle accident for nine models of sedans, 15 sport/utility vehicles, two pickups and four minivans. The sedans and minivans all fared well, receiving four stars or better. But the SUVs and pickups tested failed to earn anything above three stars.

The Toyota Camry 4-door and the Ford Crown Victoria, along with the Mercury Grand Marquis and the Lincoln LS, all earned five stars, the test's highest rating. They join the Honda Accord, which was the only vehicle to receive the five-star rating in an earlier ranking of vehicles by the agency in January.

The top rating means that in single-vehicle accidents the car would roll over less than 10 percent of the time. The other five sedans rated Tuesday -- the Chevrolet Prizm, the Hyundai Accent, the Oldsmobile Alero, the Pontiac Grand Am and the Toyota Corolla -- received four-star ratings, which put the risk of rollover in a single-vehicle accident at between 10 percent and 20 percent.

The government uses a method called "static stability" to test vehicle rollovers. It is the measure of a vehicle's center of gravity and track width to determine how "top heavy" the vehicle is. Basically, the government compares the vehicle's width with its height.

graphicThe rating is not designed to predict the likelihood of a crash, just how likely a rollover is in the case of a single-vehicle accident. Automakers have objected to using a static test rather than an active test such as the front- and side-impact ratings that entail controlled crashes. But there has yet to be an agreed upon standard for an active rollover test.

The industry's objections to the rollover ratings led Republican members of Congress to block the ratings for a number of years. But last year's recall of Firestone brand tires used on a number of SUVs, including the best-selling Ford Explorer, ended Congressional opposition to the ratings. About 148 U.S. deaths have been tied to rollover accidents involving the recalled tires.

SUVs, pickups pose greater rollover risk

The automakers point out that while the SUVs and pickups have a greater rollover risk, their other safety ratings, such as protection of the driver and passengers in front-end or side-impact collisions, often exceed the ratings of smaller vehicles, such as the sedans.

Still just over half the 15 SUVs tested earned three stars and the remaining seven earned two stars. No SUV has yet to get a rating above three stars, which indicates a 20 percent to 30 percent risk of a rollover in a single-vehicle accident. The other seven SUVs rated Tuesday received a two-star rating, which means they would roll over 30 percent to 40 percent of the time in a single-vehicle accident.

graphicNo vehicles in Tuesday's round of ratings earned the lowest, one-star, rollover rating, leaving the Chevrolet Blazer four-by-two and the GMC Jimmy four-by-two as the only models to receive that dubious distinction. The lowest rating indicates a greater-than-40-percent chance of a rollover in a single-vehicle accident.

According to government statistics, more than 10,000 people die each year in rollover crashes. More than 60 percent of SUV occupants killed in 1999 died when their vehicles rolled over. This compares with 23 percent for car occupants.

Of the vehicles in Tuesday's report, only the Toyota Sienna is available with electronic stability control, which works with anti-lock brakes to help the driver keep control of the vehicle. While the device does not affect the rollover resistance rating directly, it may reduce the likelihood of a single-vehicle crash and in turn reduce the likelihood of a subsequent rollover, according to the agency.

The agency said it hopes that by making a vehicle's rollover rating public, car manufacturers will build safer, more stable vehicles. It points out that safety ratings have improved since it started to test vehicles for crash worthiness from front-end or side impacts.

Traditional crash ratings also updated

NHTSA also released a new set of the less-controversial front- and side-impact crash ratings Tuesday. In those ratings 17 vehicles were rated for front-end collision protection, and 14 were rated for damage to occupants from side-impact collisions.

The vehicles generally performed much better in these ratings. Only two of the vehicles received less than four stars for front-end collisions. The Chrysler 300M four-door and the Chrysler LHS four-door models had three-star ratings for protection of the driver, although they had four-star ratings for protection of front-seat passengers.

Click here for a complete set of NHTSA vehicle safety ratings
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Ratings were somewhat lower for side-impact collisions, a newer crash test by the agency. There, driver protection was generally rated at three or four stars, with only the Mitsubishi Galant, the Ford Escape 4x4 four-door SUV and the Mazda Tribute 4x4 four-door SUV getting five stars for driver protection.

One model, the Pontiac Grand Prix four-door, got only two stars for driver protection in a side-impact accident. Passenger or rear-seat protection for side impacts were generally comparable, but the Oldsmobile Intrigue received only a one-star rating for passenger protection in those crashes.

Drivers have role in vehicle safety

NHTSA said no matter the vehicle's safety ratings, it is crucial for passengers and drivers to wear seatbelts to protect them no matter what kind of accident they're involved with. According to NHTSA, belted occupants are 75 percent less likely to be killed in a rollover crash.

The agency also offers consumers advice on lessening the likelihood of rollovers. First, it says, avoid conditions that lead to loss of control, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while sleepy or driving too fast.

Drivers should be especially careful on rural roads, where curves and poor maintenance can add to rollover possibilities. On highways, drivers may lose control when overcorrecting their steering. Worn tires or improperly inflated tires can cause a vehicle to slide off the road and increase the risk of rolling over.

The agency encourages consumers to maintain tires properly and replace them when necessary. Low tire pressure has been linked to many of the fatal accidents involving Ford Explorers and Firestone tires.

Finally, consumers are advised to pay close attention to the maximum safe load for vehicles. Any load placed on the roof will be above the center of gravity and can increase the likelihood of rolling over. Consumers should consult their owner's manual to determine what is acceptable for their vehicles. graphic