Severe personal injuries — often including spinal paralysis, closed head injury brain damage, and even death — frequently result from roof crush that is sustained in rollover car accidents in Texas. In fact, of the more than 26,000 people seriously injured in rollover automobile accidents annually in our country, about one in four sustain their injuries in wrecks involving roof crush — many in SUV rollovers. See the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) submission to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dated December 19, 2001. Nonetheless, I believe that the auto industry seems to have accomplished little in making passenger vehicles’ roofs stronger and safer for the motoring public.
Even though the industry often blames occupant injury on the occupants’ “dive into” the overturned roof in a SUV rollover crash, strength of the “safety cage” — the structural elements in the perimeter of the passenger compartment — still is an essential crashworthiness design component — particularly in roof crush rollover accidents: Limiting intrusion — whether at the roof, doors, firewall, floorboard or elsewhere — into the passenger compartment’s safety cage always is necessary to allow airbag and seatbelt restraint systems the space needed to prevent serious injury. For more data and details, and other safety-related facts, see the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) article at http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/rollover.html, fn. 10.
Especially in high-speed rollovers — such as those common along the thousands of miles of Texas freeways and those of other states with speed limits of 70 miles per hour or more — roof crush often causes catastrophic injuries with tragic results. And, with speed limits unlikely to be reduced any time soon because of the ever-increasing “rush” mentality of today’s society, anything done to reduce the likelihood of roof crush would be a welcome development.
Now, I want to share some good news, in the form of the fairly new and increasingly popular electronic stability control (ESC) systems, which basically consist of sensors tied to brakes and engine control units that, along with a microcomputer constantly monitoring the vehicle’s responses to its driver’s steering actions, apply the brakes to individual wheels when needed to bring the vehicle back to its desired, safe path. This ESC, when combined with improved roof crush strength plus effective restraint (seatbelt and airbag) systems, actually may end up being a giant step towards eliminating the most serious of injuries in roof crush accidents following rollovers.