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Rollover Accidents responsible for 10,000 deaths per year in U.S.

Author / Coordinator:  
March 2007

Rollover vehicle accidents account for more than 10,000 deaths in the United States in a given year, more than side and rear crashes combined. Rollovers also result in thousands of serious injuries each year. Most of these rollovers and related injuries may have been prevented by drivers and/or manufacturers of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs.

Rollover accidents are among the most dangerous types of crashes because the vehicle occupants are subjected to particularly severe injuries for two reasons:

  • Rollover crashes place the vehicle in an unpredictable motion
  • Occupants of a rolling vehicle are often ejected (especially those not wearing seat belts). Unpredictable vehicle motion and occupant ejection can result in severe head injuries, including traumatic brain injury, and, in many cases, death. Head trauma is the most frequent type of fatal and nonfatal injury that results from a rollover crash.

Rollovers can be caused by defective tires, defective vehicle design or a combination of many factors. Top heavy cars, trucks, vans and SUVs are more likely to rollover and are inherently unstable. This is confirmed by real-life crash statistics involving top heavy cars, trucks, vans and SUVs, which are involved in the most rollovers. In other words, taller, narrower vehicles are more likely than lower, wider vehicles such as passenger cars to trip and roll over once they leave the roadway. Furthermore, since trucks, vans and SUVs are not classified as "passenger vehicles," they do not have to meet the same safety regulations as cars and station wagons.

Ford Broncos and Explorers have been notorious for numerous rollovers because of specific design defects that make them more likely than other vehicles to roll over during a crash. However, other trucks, vans and SUVs with similar design defects can be just as dangerous.

Rollover crash accidents are complex events, influenced by the design of the vehicle involved and by driver and road characteristics. All vehicles can roll over and all types of vehicles will roll given certain conditions. SUVs have the highest number of rollovers per 100 crashes, but due to the higher numbers of passenger cars on the road, nearly half of all rollovers involve passenger cars.

In the single-vehicle crash, more than 90% of rollovers occur after a driver runs off the road. After a vehicle slides off the pavement, a ditch, soft soil, curb or other so-called tripping mechanism usually initiates the rollover. Since the manufacturers of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs know this, they must develop and engineer vehicles to be rollover resistant and more stable.

To minimize the risk of a rollover crash and serious injury, drivers should:

1) Always wear seat belts which dramatically reduce the risk of being killed or seriously injured.
2) Avoid conditions that may lead to loss of control such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
3) Exercise more caution during inclement weather, on curved roads and roads with soft shoulders.
4) Avoid over-correction when steering.
5) Make sure tires are properly maintained including air pressure and tread life.
6) Consult owner's manual to determine maximum safe loads and proper load distribution since loading may increase the likelihood of a rollover accident.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, must also to take responsibility for rollovers involving their cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. Not only must manufacturers take significant steps to minimize the risk of a rollover crash occurring in the first instance, but they must also minimize the risk of injury to occupants involved in a rollover (also known as “crashworthiness”).

Thus, to take responsibility manufacturers have a duty to:

1) Engineer the vehicles to be crashworthy and minimize potential for serious injury to occupants.
2) Make cars, trucks, vans and SUV’s less top heavy.
3) Design control and stability systems that properly react to driver steering and braking, and respond to improper movement of the vehicle to anticipate and alleviate rollover.
4) Appropriately warn consumers of hazards and risks associated with rollover propensity including particular models and vehicles, tire inflation, vehicle loading, etc.

The Rollover Resistance Ratings* of the vehicles below were compared to 220,000 actual single vehicle crashes, and the ratings were found to relate very closely to the real-world rollover experience of vehicles.

Crash Testing for Frontal Collisions

For testing frontal collisions, crash-test dummies are placed in driver and front passenger seats and secured with the vehicle’s seat belts. Vehicles are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 miles per hour (mph), which is equivalent to a head-on collision between two identical vehicles each moving at 35 mph. Since the test reflects a crash between two identical vehicles, you can only compare vehicles from the same weight class when looking at frontal crash protection ratings.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy’s head, chest, and legs. The resulting information indicates a belted person’s chances of incurring a serious injury in the event of a crash. In the explanation of ratings below, a serious injury is one requiring immediate hospitalization and may be life threatening.

Five stars = 10% or less chance of serious injury
Four stars = 11% to 20% chance of serious injury
Three stars = 21% to 35% chance of serious injury
Two stars = 36% to 45% chance of serious injury
One star = 46% or greater chance of serious injury

Crash Testing for Side Collisions

For side collisions, testing represents an intersection-type collision with a 3,015 pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. The barrier is covered with crushable material to replicate the front of a vehicle. Side collision star ratings indicate the chance of a life threatening chest injury for the driver, front seat passenger, and the rear seat passenger. Head injury is not measured in these tests. As with the front impact ratings, a serious injury is one requiring immediate hospitalization and may be life threatening. Since all tested vehicles are impacted by the same size barrier, it is possible to compare vehicles from the different weight classes when looking at side crash protection ratings.

Five stars = 5% or less chance of serious injury
Four stars = 6% to 10% chance of serious injury
Three stars = 11% to 20% chance of serious injury
Two stars = 21% to 25% chance of serious injury
One star = 26% or greater chance of serious injury

*Caution should be exercised with NHTSA's rollover resistance report as it did not study the effects of SUVs on actual road test conditions. Therefore it may not have all of the important differences in emergency handling caused by varying suspension designs, shocks, tires, average passenger & cargo loads, road conditions, steering response, or the presence of an electronic stability-control system.

If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of a vehicle rollover, it is crucial that you talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. If have immediate concerns or just need someone to talk to, call Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben now at 1-800-752-4265 for a free consultation.