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Scott Thomas
Scott Thomas
Contributor •

Roof strength standard update on hold until Oct. 1

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was scheduled to release its amended and upgraded federal standard on vehicle roof strength requirements July 1. However, after input from a U.S. Senate hearing on June 4 that featured testimony from groups such as the People Safe in Rollovers Foundation, and which called for the proposal to be significantly strengthened, the NHTSA has delayed its announcement of the final roof strength standard to Oct. 1.

The original NHTSA proposal would upgrade the Federal Motor Vehicle Saftey Standard No. 216, extending coverage to vehicles with gross weight ratings up to 10,000 pounds, and requiring a roof withstand an applied force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight while still maintaining sufficient headroom for an average adult male.

The upgrade would for the first time regulate the roof strength of many SUVs and pickup trucks, many of which are currently exempt under a 6,000-pound standard. The current requirement for roof strength is that a roof withstand applied force equal to only 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight.

However, despite the suggested increases, research and consumer groups objected to the NHTSA proposal, saying the suggested new standard is still not tough enough to protect drivers and passengers. They call for a standard that would increase roof strength to withstand at least 3.5 times the vehicle’s weight.

Results of a 2008 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research and communications organization, supports the call for a stronger standard. The study found that occupants in vehicles that meet the current strength requirements by a narrow margin have elevated injury risks compared to occupants in vehicles with stronger roofs. The IIHS estimates that a standard requiring roof strength to increase to a level of 3 or 3.5 times the vehicle’s weight would save hundereds of lives each year.