WASHINGTON -- Federal safety regulators issued two reports Thursday outlining steps they will take to reduce the dangers of car-truck crashes and rollovers, especially for pickups and SUVs.
Automakers will not be required to make dramatic design changes in their popular and profitable light trucks anytime soon. But they likely will be required to:
In addition, the reports provide reminders that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is preparing to undertake an overhaul of the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, and NHTSA believes CAFE could be a tool to influence vehicle designs.
Many ideas in the reports issued by NHTSA are familiar and have been considered for years. The reports are available at NHTSA's Web site: www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
But the reports provide a clearer picture of how aggressive NHTSA will be in addressing its two top safety priorities related to vehicle design: the mismatch between cars and trucks, also known the compatibility issue, and the rollover danger, especially among light trucks.
Automakers and their allies have been on edge since January, when NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, in unguarded remarks, lashed out broadly at lights trucks as unsafe. In addition, organizations that criticize SUVs blame them not only for damaging the environment but also for increasing deaths and injuries on the roads.
Runge has since tempered his remarks and regularly complimented automakers for their dedication to improving safety but made clear compatibility and rollover remain at the top of his agenda.
Indeed, the report recommendations, if implemented, will likely keep the companies and their suppliers busy for years.
In addition, the reports indicate NHTSA is planning additional research activities that could lead to more significant changes in vehicles.
The agency says, for example, it will conduct a new crash-test program in the next year to better understand the effects of some vehicle characteristics, such as height and stiffness, in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes.
Elsewhere, NHTSA says state and local governments will be encouraged to take some steps. They include improving roadway markings and rubble strips to better keep vehicles in their lanes and upgrading guardrails so that they better handle higher riding light trucks that go off the road.
Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer organization Public Citizen, says the reports are a useful pulling together of ideas but contain nothing revolutionary.
Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says officials at his organization are reviewing the reports and will factor them into the studies the automakers are conducting on the compatibility and rollover issues.