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Government Releases New Rollover and Crash Ratings

Government Releases New Rollover and Crash Ratings

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just 17 of 52 sedans, compact cars and other vehicles tested received the government's highest rating for their ability to avoid rollovers, according to results released Monday.

The 2003 Toyota Tacoma pickup with an extended cab got the worst rollover rating of the vehicles tested, earning two stars on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's five-star scale.

The Audi TT, Buick LeSabre, Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Ford Mustang and Mercedes-Benz E320 were among those earning five stars. Most vehicles received four stars, including the Acura RL, the Buick Century and Park Avenue, the Chevrolet Cavalier, the Honda Accord and Civic and the Volkswagen New Beetle.

Taller vehicles are more likely to get poor rollover ratings, since NHTSA predicts rollover propensity based on vehicle width and height. Five stars means a vehicle's rollover propensity is less than 10 percent. Two stars means its rollover propensity is between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Toyota spokesman Christopher Tinto said the Tacoma performed similarly to other small pickups and narrowly missed getting a third star. He also said the 2004 Tacoma will offer optional electronic stability control to help it stay upright.

NHTSA also released new front- and side-impact crash test results for 10 sport utility vehicles and sedans.

In those tests, the BMW 3-series and the Mazda 6 did worst, earning three stars for injuries caused to the driver in a side-impact crash. Three stars reflects an 11 percent to 20 percent chance of serious injury in a crash.

NHTSA noted that the damage caused to the crash test dummy in the BMW crash indicated a high likelihood of serious pelvic injury in a crash.

BMW spokesman Dave Buchko said he couldn't comment on the test results until BMW has more information. He pointed out that the 3-series has standard head- and pelvis-protecting air bags. NHTSA tested the vehicle with those air bags in place.

"We'll look at this very closely," he said.

NHTSA also noted a high likelihood of head injury to the left rear passenger in the Honda Element, which earned four stars in the side-impact crash test. The Mitsubishi Outlander and the Mazda 6 also earned four stars in the test for the left rear passenger. Four stars means there is a 6 percent to 10 percent chance of serious injury in a crash.

The Kia Sorento, Mercedes-Benz C240 and the Volvo XC90 were the only three vehicles to earn five stars in both the driver and rear passenger side-impact tests. Five stars means a vehicle has a risk of serious injury of 5 percent or less.

Automakers have been critical of NHTSA's rollover tests, since the agency uses a mathematical formula instead of a moving test to predict rollover. NHTSA stands by the test as a good predictor of vehicle behavior, but the agency also plans to adopt a moving test later this year that will measure the way a vehicle negotiates sharp turns.

"The problem with this rating system is that it tells you zero how the vehicle behaves dynamically," said Toyota's Tinto. "We anticipate a better score when vehicles are tested dynamically."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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