Federal regulators want stronger vehicle roofs to protect people in rollover crashes, but they have no plan to protect occupants of convertibles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it cannot hold convertibles, including retractable hardtops, to the same roof-crush requirements as vehicles with fixed roofs. The agency also has decided against convertible-specific rollover rules, such as requiring roll bars.
There has been a sharp increase in convertible offerings in the past decade, and existing roof-strength rules exempt convertibles. Several import automakers have added rollover safety equipment voluntarily. Although concern has mounted over rollover deaths in SUVs, convertible rollover deaths are a nonissue for NHTSA, the insurance industry and some automakers. The 94 fatalities attributed to 87 convertibles that rolled over in 2004 accounted for fewer than 1 percent of about 10,000 U.S. rollover deaths last year.
"We've been asked the convertible question many times, and we don't see a higher pattern of injury losses," said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a research organization for auto insurers.
Safety lobbyists and regulators say convertibles' low center of gravity makes them less prone to rollover.