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Toyota issues recall announcement affecting 880,000 vehicles

May 2005-Toyota Motor Corp. said it is recalling about 880,000 sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks worldwide because of a defect that could affect steering. In the United States, 774,856 Toyota SUVs and pickup trucks have been recalled, including the 2001-2004 model years of the Tacoma, the 2001-2002 versions of the 4Runner and the 2002-2004 model years of the Tundra and Sequoia. Toyota's recall announcement also affects 22,000 vehicles in Japan, 22,000 vehicles in Europe, 14,000 vehicles in Australia and 10,800 vehicles throughout the rest of the world. Read More

SUV ROLLOVER BREAKING NEWS

15 Passenger Van Stability Hazards

Strategic Safety, LLC

[Updated 4/15/02]

Concern about the stability and handling of 15-passenger vans resulted in last year's rare government issued Consumer Advisory warning that these vehicles have a dramatically higher rollover risk, especially when they are loaded with 10 or more occupants. The Advisory was reissued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on April 15, 2002 in response to the continuing spate of 15-passenger van rollover incidents and highlighted the lack of resolve surrounding the acute stability hazards presented by these vehicles. [NHTSA Press Release April 15, 2002]

According to NHTSA there are approximately 1.4 million 15-passenger vans registered in the U.S. A NHTSA spokesperson has stated that there is "nothing inherently wrong with these vehicles." However, the rising number of incidents, despite their warnings, tells another story.

Fifteen passenger vans are designed to accommodate 14 passengers and a driver. These vehicles (sold by GM, Ford and Chrysler under various nameplates) emanate from decades old truck chassis that are fitted with an extended full-size van bodies. According to NHTSA statistics, 15-passenger vans loaded with 10 or more occupants experience a rollover rate three-times the rate of those that are lightly loaded. [NHTSA Statistical Fact Sheet]

Jeff Wigington, an attorney in Corpus Christi, TX, who has represented victims in several catastrophic 15-passenger van cases, said "the number of fatalities in 15 passenger van accidents has been a well kept secret for years." Wigington went on to say

The automobile manufacturers do not perform any true stability tests before these vehicles are sold. For instance, Ford has established stability guidelines for vehicles that weigh less than 8,500 lbs., but Ford's E-350 Super Club Wagon weighs 9,000 lbs. and is not subject to any of the company's internal limit testing. They don't run the test with the 15-passenger van because it will fail--especially when loaded with occupants.

NHTSA, by continuing to issue warnings is pursuing a path that it previously dismissed in the 1970s as ineffective. In 1971 the Department of the Army requested comments and recommendations from the U.S. DOT about its plans to sell Jeep M151's (the precursors to the Jeep CJs) to the public. The Army hoped to dispose of 73,000 vehicles in sales to the public over a six to ten year period which represented approximately $54 million in returns to the Army if the vehicles were sold. The M151 was well known for its high rollover propensity. On average about 30 percent of all accidents involving the M151 were rollovers. The Army proposed selling the vehicles with a warning label that read as follows:

CAUTION

This vehicle is designed primarily for operation over rough terrain. The design features, short wheel base and high center of gravity, establishes limitations in handling characteristics of the vehicles. Drivers are cautioned that there is little warning by body tilt or feel when turning corners too sharp for the speed of the vehicle. This could contribute to vehicle rollover.

NHTSA responded to the Army's request in a September 21, 1971 letter stating

We do not believe that the handling problem, a propensity to roll over without warning to the user that rollover may be imminent can be adequately guarded against through the use of warnings . . . [a] training program for the public is impracticable. Even if a warning on a decal or in a certificate could suffice, such a decal could be removed or destroyed, and the certificate lost, and the purchaser or subsequent purchasers would not receive notice of the potential hazard.

The commonsense wisdom of this decision has been lost. Vehicles should be designed to respond safely to expected accident avoidance maneuvers when they are operated within their gross vehicle weight ratings. In this case, a 15-passenger van should be able to operate safely in an accident avoidance maneuver regardless of whether there are 10 or 15 occupants in the vehicle--if they don't, it is incumbent on the manufacturer to remedy the problem and on NHTSA to enforce its defect requirements.

NHTSA is advising that 15-passenger vans be driven by experienced drivers who operate the van on a regular basis and that this regular operation will give the drivers experience handling the van ["Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans"]. This policy suggestion ignores significant issues--will these vehicles be rented by "inexperienced" drivers, who will instigate a driver training program to instruct operators to handle the inherently dangerous characteristics of these vehicles, even in the hands of an "experienced" driver, how will accident avoidance maneuvers be addressed?

Other Links:

15 Passenger Van Fatal Accidents in the U.S.

"The Rollover Propensity of Fifteen-Passenger Vans" NHTSA, April 2001

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