Sport utility vehicles have the highest rate of deaths occurring in rollovers. Every day in the United States there are hundreds of SUV, van & light truck rollovers. Often times these rollovers are caused wholly or in part by tire failures, tire tread defects (detreading or delamination), poor stability design, poorly designed suspension system, and inadequate brakes.
Once the rollover occurs, the occupants face additional dangers from weak roof supports that crush or collapse, weak seatbacks that fail, the lack of headrest or head restraint devices, overly aggressive airbags, defective or poor fitting seat belts, dangerous lap-only belts, seat belt buckles that open during crashes and finally window glass/windshields that allow passengers to be ejected during the rollover. Almost 40% of all registered vehicles in the U.S. are light trucks and SUVs. The popularity of sport utility vehicles, in particular, poses new challenges to both other drivers on the road and the drivers and occupants of SUVs.
Contact a rollover accident lawyer today to discuss your SUV or passenger van accident. Our auto defect attorneys offer a free consultation to review the details of your accident and discuss your legal options.
Rollovers and Roof Collapse
Rollovers cause more than 7000 deaths and serious injuries each year where the roofs of the rolled vehicle collapse. The number of rollover deaths involving SUVs has increased by more than 200% in the last 30 years. Studies continue to show there is a strong correlation to roof strength and fatalities and injuries, and the severity of roof crushing in rollover accidents.
Unfortunately, automakers have fought changes to regulations and challenge the validity of the numerous studies claims that say roof strength standards are far too weak to protect occupants, particularly in high rollover risk vehicles like SUVs. These automakers claim that the far most important preventative measure is getting occupants to buckle up as most rollover deaths and injuries occur when unbelted occupants are ejected from the vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conclusions on roof strength issues are in line with newer studies and they support efforts to increase roof strength standards to reduce rollover death risks. NHTSA’s data indicates that an average of 3700 deaths and serious injuries occur annually in rollover accidents where the occupants are wearing their seat belts and the roof is crushed.
What Standards are Vehicle Roofs Held to?
In 2009, great progress was made to reduce risks of rollover crashes and upgrade the agency’s safety standards on roof crush resistance. The prior rule for cars, SUVs, and trucks was the vehicle’s roof must withstand 1.5x the vehicles unloaded weight. This was doubled to 3x the vehicles unloaded weight. This new rule now applies to vehicles up to 10,000 pounds in weight covering a much more broad array of heavier trucks. The new test standards also require the roof of the vehicle is to hold up on both sides instead of a single side test. These 2009 rule changes estimate to save 135 or more lives and 1000+ injuries each year.
NHTSA has made addressing rollovers one of its highest safety priorities. In 2007, 35% of all vehicle occupants were killed in a rollover accident. Approximately 57% of those were killed by being ejected either partially or fully. NHTSA has stated in their report that their goals are to
- Reduce the occurrence of rollover crashes (electronic stability control)
- Keep occupants inside the vehicle when rollovers occur (seat belts and improved door hinges to prevent ejections)
- Better protect those occupants inside the vehicle during the rollover (new roof strength standards and two sided tests)
Technology like Electronic Stability Control has the ability to reduce rollovers from occurring by over half. ESC systems use automatic computer-controlled braking to assist drivers by braking individual wheels when the computer senses that the driver is losing directional stability. NHTSA estimates ESC will save 5300 to 9600 lives in all types of crashes annually once every light vehicle on the road is equipped with electronic stability control.
Passenger Van Rollovers
Commonly used across the country in churches, schools, volunteer groups, and more, 15 passenger vans serve as a common carrier and cheaper alternative to more expensive means of transporting groups around. The problem with these vans is the high risk of rollover accidents.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has repeatedly issued warnings and safety advisories about the rollover potential of these vans. Normally, a 15 passenger van’s rollover risk is similar to that of a pickup truck or SUV (which is much higher than a car). As the load increases or the amount of people riding increases, the van becomes increasingly dangerous. In fact once there are 10 or more passengers, a 15 passenger van is three times as likely to roll over compared to lightly loaded conditions.
The problems with these 15 passenger vans are well documented. As more passengers are put onto the vans, and the rear space is filled with gear, luggage, or people, the center of gravity is shifted upwards and backward. The driver of the vehicle must know that he/she is now driving a completely different vehicle than if the van were empty. Because of the shifting of the center of gravity, the vans rollover potential exponentially increases. As it shifts towards the back, the importance of the rear tires increases.
Unfortunately, too many tires are underinflated or not rated for the types of loads they are put under which leads to severe tire damage or blowouts that cause the vehicle to be put into a situation where it can easily rollover. Coupled with an inexperienced driver and you have a recipe for tragedy.
How Can the Chance of a Passenger Van Rollover be Reduced?
NHTSA recommends if these dangerous 15 passenger vans are going to be used, that the drivers make sure every person is wearing their seat belt. They should also check the vehicle’s tire pressure and condition before each trip. Drivers should have experience with the 15 passenger vans, ideally taking safety courses which advise them not to ever exceed 65 mph, avoid sudden braking, keeping adequate distances between cars, and checking seatbelts periodically.
Reports by insurance groups and safety departments recommend removing the back seat of the van, in an effort to keep the center of gravity where it is supposed to and eliminating 3 passengers from the load. 15 passenger vans should always be loaded from the front to the back, keeping as many passengers in the front rows as possible and leaving back rows empty where applicable. Roof racks should never be applied to 15 passenger vans as this further raises the center of gravity and increases rollover risks.
In the years following NHTSA’s first reports about increased 15 passenger van rollover risks, studies showed that up to 80% of deaths reported in 15 passenger van rollovers involved riders not wearing their seatbelts. More commonly than not, the left rear tire was the tire that failed.
Up to 57% of the van rollovers involved underinflated tires. Many of these 15 passenger van rollovers could be prevented if manufacturers used vans that had duel rear tires, and enhanced strength in the roof to prevent roof crushes during van rollover accidents. Another measure recommended to help keep the center of gravity low is to keep the van’s gas tanks topped off when at all possible. This adds several hundred pounds to the frame of the vehicle to help balance the load better.
Still, even with these recommendations, 15 passenger vans are not safe vehicles for highway travel under their current 15 passenger design. Even with properly inflated tires, when the van is full, rollover risk is 3x that of an empty one.
Rollover Sunroof Ejections
Safety experts agree that large panoramic sunroofs or moonroofs intensify the risk of serious injury or death via vehicle ejection during a rollover accident. Studies show when a sunroof shatters during a rollover it decreases the strength of the roof compared to cars without those added features. Curtain airbags have helped to improve keeping passengers from being ejected out the side windows during a rollover but relatively ineffective at preventing ejection through the sunroof.
Factors Affecting Ejection Risk in Rollover Accidents and Crashes
Seatbelt use, rollover severity, vehicle type, seating position, roof crush, side curtain airbags, glazing type, and occupant age, gender, and size are all factors that affect the risk of ejection during a rollover. Seatbelt use is commonly viewed as the number one preventative of partial ejection and complete ejections. A much greater number of passengers were ejected through the sunroof or moonroof compared to side windows. Despite vehicle improvements and features like electronic stability control, injuries, and deaths due to rollover ejections remain a serious problem for the motor industry.
Studies suggest that even though a side curtain airbag deployment is likely to prevent a driver or passenger from being ejected through the side window nearest to them covered by the airbag, the occupants are still at significant risk of ejection through the sunroof. In fact, side-curtain bags can and do increase the risk of a complete ejection through the sunroof. This is because the side curtain airbags help to deflect the occupant towards an alternate exit such as the panoramic sunroof. While effective at curtailing partial ejections during rollover accidents, side curtain airbags can be equally dangerous in helping guide passengers through the roof resulting in high fatality risk full ejections.
In 2011, NHTSA toughened standards to prevent occupants from being ejected through side windows during rollovers but declined to toughen the standards for sunroofs. This is highly unfortunate for consumers because as research shows if manufacturers were to all use laminated glass it would reduce ejections and decrease the amount of sunroof shattering during accidents. Laminated glass is two panes of glass that are then fused with a sheet of plastic which allows the glass to hold its form much better, even if it shatters. Some of the leaders in vehicle safety, like Volvo, have recognized this and use laminated glass sunroofs in all their applications because they “provide superior protection in rollover situations.”
Defective Sunroofs and Moonroofs
Increasing the risk of sunroof ejections are defective sunroofs that lack the strength, the quality of brackets, or lack of lamination allowing them to shatter and fail during a rollover accident. Ford Explorer rollovers were prone to faulty and defective sunroof brackets. The sunroof brackets allowed a separation of the sunroof allowing a portal of ejection and combined with defective seatbelts that could spool out, this lead to ripe conditions for full ejection during a Ford Explorer rollover.
More and more vehicles today are coming with panoramic sunroofs or moonroofs. The auto industry is failing its customers by not keeping the roof strength and glass strength standards up to par by using tempered glass vs stronger laminated glass. Complete ejections could be virtually eliminated with the use of laminated glass that doesn’t shatter and the use of seatbelts and deployed curtain airbags.
Unfortunately, they have calculated the cost benefits and know the profit margins for their vehicles are better with the cheaper materials, passing on the increased injury and death risk to you. When purchasing a new vehicle, always inquire to the dealer about the glass type used if the vehicle contains a panoramic sunroof or moonroof. Experts agree that panoramic sunroofs intensify the risk of partial or complete ejections during rollover crashes.
Contact a Rollover Accident Lawyer Today
Call or use the contact form to help get your questions answered. Do not wait, as the evidence both the physical marks and scrapes on the roadway will disappear with time, the SUV vehicle itself can be altered, dismantled, salvaged or even destroyed. Call us to discuss your legal options. Get a Free Rollover Case Evaluation from a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer.