News Release

Ford-Firestone and Beyond: Car Safety and Broader Issues

JOAN CLAYBROOK
President of Public Citizen, Claybrook said today: “As lawmakers delve into the Ford-Firestone tragedy, a larger issue needs to be addressed: Rollover crashes are dangerous, but they need not be deadly. The federal regulatory agency that oversees the companies has failed the American public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — under constant pressure from auto manufacturers — doesn’t require companies to design vehicles in a way that will help people survive rollover crashes. Indeed, the NHTSA has never set a limit on how unstable a vehicle may be. Ford and Firestone have been blaming each other for the more than 200 deaths and 700 injuries that have occurred in Ford-Firestone crashes. Both are right — Firestone produced a faulty tire, as Ford has said. And Ford manufactured and zealously marketed its Explorer despite knowing it was prone to rolling over, like its precursor, the Bronco II. However, an overlooked issue is NHTSA’s failure to issue key rollover crashworthiness standards. When the Explorer rolls over, the roof crushes inward, leading to devastating head and neck injuries. The sides can buckle inward, the windows splinter and the occupants can be tossed about the cabin or ejected. In a rollover crash, the forces exerted upon the vehicle and occupant are actually far less in gravitational terms than those that occur in many frontal crashes, which are now survivable due to the use of air bags and seat belts. Yet rollover crashes cause one-third of occupant deaths, more than 10,400 lives annually. Ford and the other manufacturers of SUVs could install a new kind of synthetic roof that acts like a roll bar and prevents roofs from crushing. In 1991 Congress directed NHTSA to conduct a rulemaking on a minimum rollover standard but in 1994 NHTSA abandoned its rulemaking, opting instead to develop a consumer information rule, which is far less stringent. The absence of a rollover standard has fostered an entire class of popular but dangerously unstable vehicles.”
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JEFF MILCHEN
Milchen, the founder of ReclaimDemocracy.org, said today: “Ford and Firestone officials received complaints as early as 1997 and knew of at least 35 deaths and 130 injuries before the federal government launched a probe early last year. It is clear that executives at Ford and Firestone willfully and knowingly kept unsafe products on the market that they knew would kill many more innocent people. These executives have received no punishment for their actions. Indeed, there has not been a single indictment of either corporation, nor of any culpable corporate officers to date. Nearly every candidate for public office talks tough on street crime, but then ignores the fact that corporate crime costs our society more than street crime in both dollars and lives taken. If you loan your friend a car you know to be unsafe while withholding that information, you could be convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the event of a fatal accident. Yet we permit corporate officers to commit the same offense with impunity if they do it on the job. Corporate executives regularly deploy cost-benefit analyses that weigh the potential cost of civil lawsuits or fines for the rare criminal convictions against the cost of recalls or other safety measures. We must change laws that exempt corporate employees from liability for crimes committed on company time. To truly reclaim democratic authority and protect ourselves from recidivist corporations, we should consider the practice of our country’s founders. They regularly exercised a corporate ‘death penalty’ by revoking the charters of recidivist corporations whose products or actions harmed society.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167