- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Ford Motor Co. agreed yesterday to install shields around the gas tanks on 350,000 Crown Victoria police cars across the country after at least a dozen officers were killed in fiery crashes.
Ford agreed to pay for the modifications and study ways to make the cars safer after police departments said the vehicles are prone to burst into flames in high-speed, rear-end crashes.
About 80 percent of police cars on the road in the United States are Ford Crown Victorias.
Sue Cischke, vice president of safety engineering for Ford, said the automaker was responding to concerns raised by police nationwide. But she maintained the Crown Victoria is safe.
"We're trying to make a safe car safer," she said.
Shields made of plastic and rubber will be installed on the rear axle, the differential and underneath the gas tanks. Those components have been faulted in accidents or showed the potential to puncture the gas tank in crash tests.
Ms. Cischke would not say how much the modifications will cost. But a state government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it would cost about $50 million to retrofit the 350,000 Crown Victorias used by police departments nationwide.
"This is a significant step forward in the safety of the Crown Victoria," said Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, who has been pressing Ford to make the cars safer.
Three Arizona police officers have died in fiery Crown Victoria crashes; a fourth suffered burns so severe that his entire face had to be reconstructed.
Ms. Cischke said the retrofit kits should start arriving at Ford dealerships by the end of next month, and all shields should be installed by January. The same modifications will not be made to the consumer version of the Crown Victoria, though drivers will be able to buy retrofit kits if they want them.
Ford said it also plans to sell law-enforcement agencies special boxes to store heavy or sharp items in the trunk. Ms. Cischke said that in a number of accidents such objects punctured the gas tank after they were pushed through the sides of the trunk.
Bryan Soller, the vice president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, said he was pleased with Ford's actions.
"It's a step in the right direction," said the Mesa detective.
Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer group Public Citizen, said she would like to see more testing of the shields.
"There needs to be an independent crash test," said Mrs. Claybrook, a former administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "This is a complicated fix, and I just want to be sure this works."
She also expressed concern that Ford was not adding the shields to consumer versions of the car.
NHTSA, the auto safety branch of the Transportation Department, has been investigating the Crown Victoria since November 2001, though it will not say whether the gas tank is the focus of the inquiry.


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