New Rule to Reduce Rollover Accident Fatalities

Since the Firestone tires recall, manufacturers have redesigned many small- to mid-size sport utility vehicles, giving birth to the crossover, with its lower center of gravity and reduced risk of rollover. Despite these additional design safety measures, rollovers are still the deadliest of all motor vehicle crash types, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Government statistics show that rollovers account for approximately one third of all crash deaths - about 10,000 fatalities per year over the past decade. NHTSA has issued a new rule enhancing side air bag systems, which is designed to reduce fatalities in rollover accidents both by providing more cushioning and also by actually preventing ejection from the vehicle.

New Air Bag Requirements

Ejection accounts for the most fatalities in rollover accidents. In fact, in the last decade, 47 percent of those killed in rollover crashes were ejected from the vehicle. Reuters reports that most ejections occur through the side windows.

NHTSA is requiring manufacturers to enlarge side curtain air bags, make them more robust in order that they stay inflated longer and to set them to deploy in all types of serious crashes. Side impact airbags may require tethering at the bottom. The new air bag requirements are designed to create another barrier to ejection from the vehicle, even when the windows are down or when the passenger may not be wearing a seat belt. In some cases, glass used in side windows will require unique glazing to help prevent the glass from shattering in an accident.

The new airbags will begin to appear in vehicles as early as 2013, with full implementation required in 2017. The rules apply to vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less and will reportedly cost manufacturers approximately $31 per vehicle, or $400 million based on estimated sales. In turn, the agency predicts that the new rule will save an average of 373 lives and 476 serious injuries per year.