WINDSOR, Ontario - The government has unfairly led the public to expect a quick answer to the complex problem of car-truck crashes, said a former top U.S. safety official.
George Parker, who spent 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency 'in the past has not conducted research in sort of a public light like this.
'It's just premature,' said Parker, who is now vice president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
He referred to NHTSA's release last week of its admittedly raw data from test crashes of a sedan, a pickup, a minivan and a sport-utility into the sides of 1997 Honda Accords. Honda is a member of AIAM.
'What happens is you get an expectation in the public, and the solution is really quite a ways off,' Parker said.
NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson disputed Parker's criticism. 'We've done no such thing,' Tyson said. 'Nothing suggests easy solutions.'
NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez presented the information at a news conference during the 16th Enhanced Safety of Vehicles international technical conference here.
'We really are at the early stages of this,' Martinez said of NHTSA research on compatibility. 'Our goal right now is to create knowledge,' he said. He cautioned against sweeping conclusions from the four tests.
But the next day's newspaper reports on the crash results included such headlines as 'Light trucks dangerous' (Detroit Free Press).
Martinez himself claimed the early data correlated 'fairly well' with real-world experiences and NHTSA expectations, but the numbers were laced with anomalies.
The presumably more 'aggressive' pickup and minivan, the compact Chevrolet S10 and the Dodge Caravan, both had less impact on the front dummy in the Accords than did the sedan, a mid-sized Chevrolet Lumina.
Asked if four tests are enough from which to draw any scientific conclusions, NHTSA researcher Thomas Hollowell said, 'You want to run as many as possible.'
Martinez said the tests will not be analyzed in a vacuum. NHTSA will feed the data into computer models. He noted that manufacturers also are conducting compatibility crashes.
Parker was NHTSA's associate administrator for research and development when he left in 1995. 'They are not necessarily on a bad track here,' he said. '(But) you have to test a lot of vehicles. You have to get a lot of variations in stiffness and geometry and weight and study the interactions of those in crashes.'
Staff Reporter Aaron Robinson contributed to this report