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Old 07-31-2003, 00:41   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Runge defends Ford police cars

Fortifying vehicles expensive, U.S. regulator says
July 31, 2003
BY JOCELYN PARKER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

WASHINGTON -- The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is standing by the safety of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor even as controversy about the vehicle continues to swirl.

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, NHTSA's administrator, said any vehicle would have a tough time withstanding the type of high-speed rear collisions that have caused fuel-tank fires in the Ford Motor Co.'sCrown Victorias. And if city, state and county governments want something that would never explode in these crashes, they would have to commit six-figure sums for each car, he said.

"The real question is: Are government agencies going to be willing to invest in a special vehicle that's impervious to any peril?" Runge said in an interview with the Free Press. "There's not" such a vehicle. "But I'm sure that if they were willing to pay six-figure sums for every vehicle, somebody would design one."

Runge added that the speeds have been so high during some of the crashes -- sometimes at 70 miles per hour or higher -- that the agency can't insist that every vehicle hold up.

Fuel-tank fires following high-speed rear collisions have killed at least 18 officers over the past several years.

The agency opened an investigation into the Crown Victoria in November 2001 following reports from law enforcement agencies about fuel-tank leaks and fires after high-speed rear crashes. NHTSA closed its probe in October after it found that the vehicles met current standards for fuel-system integrity and that the risk of fire per fatal rear crash in the Crown Victoria was comparable to the Chevrolet Caprice police cars.

Runge also said the agency has investigated crashes since it closed its investigation and that it hasn't found any defect. "I'm very confident that our defects investigation office did more than due diligence," he said.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said Runge's comments weren't surprising. "It just validates what we've been saying all along," she said, adding that a lot of police officers still support Ford.

The Crown Victoria, which has been the subject of several lawsuits, has been the overwhelming vehicle choice of municipal and state law-enforcement agencies. About 85 percent of all police departments and state troopers use the vehicles.

Roughly a year ago, Ford said it would voluntarily put plastic fuel-tank shields on the 350,000 Crown Victoria Police Interceptors on the road. The shields are designed to go around the gas tank and to ensure that suspension and other components would not rupture the gas tank. Ford also created two panels to examine devices and practices that would make the vehicles safer.

In May, the vehicle received the top safety rating from NHTSA in crash tests.

Nevertheless, some police departments have said Ford's fixes aren't enough to protect their officers. Some agencies have suggested that Ford use fuel tank bladders, which are reinforced liners for fuel tanks. Others have suggested that Ford totally redesign the vehicle, and some have looked for other vehicle options outside Ford.

Ford has said publicly that the bladders leaked during its durability tests.

This month, the City of Dallas reported crash-test results that showed that Ford's Trunk Packs, which are supposed to protect the fuel tank from sharp equipment during rear-end crashes, may increase fuel leakage in some accidents. Ford denies that claim.
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