Today's Consumer: News you can use

By United Press International  |  Feb. 25, 2002 at 4:45 AM
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The 14.5 million vehicles recalled in the United States in 2001 was the lowest number since 1994, when 6 million vehicles were recalled.

That's according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which said the number of vehicles recalled fell to a seven-year low -- down 40 percent from 2000. Nearly 11 million of last year's recalls were voluntary, initiated by automakers.

In 2000, a record 24 million cars, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles were recalled. That same year, Bridgestone/Firestone recalled more than 6.5 million defective AT, ATX and ATX II tires because of tread separation incidents linked to 271 deaths and more than 800 injuries.

A National Research Council report released last Thursday said federal rollover ratings for cars, SUVs and light trucks don't give consumers enough information and urged NHTSA to conduct actual road tests to determine the tendency of a vehicle to rollover in a crash.

NHTSA for the past two years has used a five-star system rating a vehicle's propensity to rollover -- with five-stars the highest. The ratings are based on a formula using a vehicle's speed, width and center of gravity height to determine the "static stability factor." No actual road tests are performed.

Only one American-made SUV, the Pontiac Aztek, earned a 4-star rating -- given to a vehicle with between a 10-percent and 20-percent risk of rollover. The Acura MDX 4x4 (from the Japanese Honda's luxury division) also got four stars.

The report, commissioned by Congress, contends star ratings are too broad and don't provide enough crash data about the factors that cause 10,000 rollover-related deaths and 27,000 serious injuries in the United States annually.

Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, joined a 13-member panel of the National Academy of Science in calling for a numerical rollover rating system that would be more informative. "Without precise consumer information, auto manufacturers can continue to tell customers that more rollover-prone vehicles are safer than they really are," Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said. "The National Research Council report confirms that consumers need more detailed information than the government is now providing."

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