- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004


Only one of the 33 cars, sport utility vehicles and pickups tested by the government earned the highest safety rating in measuring how easily they roll over.

The Mazda RX-8 sports car was the only vehicle to earn five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which means the risk is less than 10 percent that the car will roll over in a single-car crash.

Ten SUVs earned three stars, putting their risk of rollover between 20 percent and 30 percent. Those were the Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 and 4x2, the Dodge Durango 4x2, the Ford Explorer 4x4 and 4x2, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4x4, the GMC Yukon 4x4 and 4x2 and the Mercury Mountaineer 4x4 and 4x2.

The other vehicles, mostly passenger cars, earned four stars, putting their rollover risk between 10 percent and 20 percent. No vehicle earned fewer than three stars.

Results were released today.

While the highest ratings continue to elude SUVs, rollover scores are improving.

In 2003, for example, the Mercury Mountaineer 4x2, the GMC Yukon 4x2, the Chevrolet Tahoe 4x2 and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4x4 all earned two stars, which meant their risk of rollover was 30 percent to 40 percent. Each got higher scores in 2004.

“The whole purpose of doing ratings in the first place was to let the marketplace be the catalyst for better-handling vehicles,” agency spokesman Rae Tyson said. “The manufacturers have responded by designing vehicles that are less prone to rollover, and that’s a good thing.”

Some of the improvement may be due to a change in the government’s test procedures.

Until this year, the agency measured rollover propensity with a mathematical formula based on the vehicle’s width and height. The new test considers width and height but also measures how a vehicle performs when it swerves sharply to the left and then to the right at 35 mph and 50 mph.

Automakers and safety groups have praised the new test, saying it is more accurate than the mathematical formula. But the results can be confusing.

For example, the government noted that the Toyota Tacoma 4x2 pickup tipped up on two wheels during the moving test, but it still earned four stars.

Mr. Tyson said a vehicle can tip and still get a good score because the mathematical formula accounts for a large portion of a vehicle’s rating. He said vehicles that tip do not necessarily roll over, but the agency wanted consumers to know which vehicles were more likely to tip.

Rollovers result in more than 10,000 deaths each year, or fewer than one-quarter of all deaths caused by vehicle accidents.

The agency also released front- and side-impact crash tests for 13 vehicles. The 2004 Toyota Camry Solara coupe and the 2005 Chevrolet Equinox 4x4 were the only vehicles that earned five stars in all four of the front and side tests.

The Chevrolet Aveo got the lowest score of all of the vehicles tested, with three stars on its side driver and side passenger tests. The Aveo earned five stars on two frontal tests.

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