Car Roofs


Story Details

In Australia one in every five fatalities are the result of rollovers. In the United States 10,000 people die as a result of them, however many more suffer serious head and spinal injuries from roofs crushing down on occupants, making roof strength the biggest single safety issue now facing car makers.

How many times have we seen racing cars flip and roll at high speed and their drivers survive with barely a scratch?

But you may not be as lucky with your life if you're driving a normal car or a four wheel drive and it rolled several times.

We've seen a lot of safety innovations such as air bags, but the roof is still being overlooked. In some vehicles we've seen an improvement in rollover but still not strengthening the pilar in front, the one that results in the roof coming down on your head and suffering neck injuries.

And it couldn't be more dramatic. After a rollover test on a year 2000 Explorer SUV in the United States, the Ford motor company went to court in attempt to stop it being shown. The roof crushes in on one side. It would have either killed or seriously injured the occupants. If you are unlucky enough to roll twice, your odds of surviving are reduced even further.

Associate Professor Raphael Grizbietta, a car safety expert from Melbourne's Monash University is involved in a global push to get manufacturers to strengthen car roofs and have their cars tested on a new device developed in the US called the Jordan Rollover System.

Here's how ludicrous the existing standard governing car roofs is. It would be perfectly legal to drive a vehicle on our roads with a roof made of, let's say, pasta.

Raphael says of manufacturers: "They claim there is no link between neck injuries and roof crush but that's absolute rubbish. We've proven that here at Monash. There is a direct link between neck loading and roof crush."

In another rollover test done in the US on a Jeep Cherokee, the roof damage is extensive and would have almost certainly been fatal. Compare that and the Ford we saw earlier to a test on a Volvo XC 90 where the roof support holds up extremely well. The Volvo is living up to its image as one of the safest models on our roads.

"Ford now own Volvo and Volvo have one of the safest vehicles, whereas some of the Ford and General Motors vehicles have been the worst," says Raphael.

Andrew McKellar of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says car makers are always improving safety. One of latest innovations is electronic stability control to prevent rollovers.

"Half of all SUV's with electronic stability control. It's important to approach this risk, but debate needs to be had and industry doesn't shy away from that," Andrew says.

In the USA car makers are now being sued by victims of roof crush. Raphael Grizbieta says it could soon happen here and they can do a lot more with safety starting by strengthening the front and middle pillars in vehicles, for as little as $20 or $50.

In the meantime, he's urging the Federal Transport Department to bring the Jordan Rollover System to Australia and make it part of the new car assessment program which already tests for front and side impact collisions.

Raphael says: "It would only take 3 million. I think 3 million in comparison to half spinal injuries. One in five fatalities. It's a trivial sum."