WASHINGTON - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administra-tion and automakers will hold an international summit on car-truck compatibility in Detroit in May or in early June. Vehicle manufacturers and NHTSA seem increasingly at odds over the risks trucks pose to cars in crashes.
Bob Lange, director of safety engineering at General Motors, said the car companies have not yet discussed their conference role. But, he said, it is likely to be 'to work with NHTSA to restore some rationality to the debate.'
Ricardo Martinez, administrator of NHTSA, sees the summit as another chance to convince vehicle manufacturers to improve designs voluntarily. The alternative to co-operation, he said in an interview, would be government action.
'Quite frankly,' said Martinez, 'I don't understand' the auto industry's defensiveness on the issue. He spoke as NHTSA prepared to release a study contending that car occupants face a disproportionate risk of dying in accidents involving cars and light trucks.
In the USA, the term truck includes minivans and sport utilities.
The NHTSA study claimed:
In 1996 there were 5,259 fatalities in 1996 involving a collision between a car and a light truck or van.
Some 81 percent of those killed were car passengers.
Light trucks and vans only account for a third of all registered vehicles.
The report was based in part on a study of 1991-94 crash data compiled by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The institute found risks to car passengers were 30 times greater than the risks to people in light trucks.
The NHTSA study has reinforced recent findings of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the research arm of auto insurers. The Insurance Institute said recently the risk of dying can be 48 times greater for occupants of a car than a truck.