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Image Source: KCTV 5 News
KC Ford Explorer Crash
Image Source: KCTV 5 News

Rush hour traffic was snarled in Kansas City last night when a Ford Explorer lost control and overturned.  The crash highlights the Ford Explorer’s well-documented stability issues as well as the importance of child seats and safety belts.

Reports suggest that up to nine people were injured in the crash, which law enforcement official suspect was triggered by a tire failure.

The Ford Explorer has a long history of rollover and stability problems, beginning with its inception as the Ford Bronco II in March 1983.  Now, 30 years later, Ford is still battling the stability problems that plagued the vehicle at its inception and fighting losing battles in courts across the country.

PBS analyzed the long history of the Explorer stability and rollover problem on its Frontline series back in 2002. Rollovers are often associated with defective tires and design flaws.

PBS found that Ford’s Bronco II — the precursor to the Ford Explorer — suffered from stability and rollover problems from the day it was rolled out in 1983. According to the PBS report, even Ford engineers were “flipping these things over” in test drives.

Ford engineer Fred Parrill acknowledged that [Ford] knew that the Bronco II was killing people in rollovers much more often than its rivals.

In fact, tests showed that the Bronco II would tip up off of its wheels at speeds as low as 20 miles per hour.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Bronco II the most deadly SUV on the road.

The Ford Explorer grew directly out of the Bronco II. The Explorer was made for a family, but kept the rugged characteristics — and the stability problems — of the Bronco II. In fact, an internal Ford memo from May 1987 said that the stability of the UN46 — the Ford Explorer Prototype — was worsethan the Bronco II, but could be improved by widening and lowering the vehicle.

Just eight months before Explorer was to roll off the assembly line, Bronco II failed handling tests conducted by Consumer Reports magazine. The magazine warned readers away from the vehicle.

An internal Ford memo said that the Consumer’s Union told Ford: “You have a real problem” with your Bronco II.

Alarmed, Ford immediately sent its engineers to the company’s Arizona proving grounds to put the Explorer prototype through the Consumer Reports tests. When the Explorer was put through the same tests, it repeatedly tipped up off the ground. Ford engineers scrambled to find a fix.

Ford tried a number of small fixes, such as tire pressure and suspension changes, but they were not enough. Ultimately, the Explorer suffered the same problem as the Bronco II and needed two more inches in width to achieve a safe level of stability.

Ford’s management, under Don Petersen, . . . again decided – as it had in the case of the Bronco II – to make a series of smaller fixes. But the company refused to widen the vehicle.

Ford executives admitted that one of the reasons Ford refused to widen the vehicle was because it would lose money if it waited for the fix. Instead, the company again sold vehicles to the public that it knew would roll over.

Finally, in 2002, after 20 years of stability and rollover problems, Ford finally widened the Explorer. However, Ford resolutely denies that it widened the vehicle because of stability problems.

Late model Ford Explorers are still driving on our roads and highways. Each year, more innocent passengers are killed or paralyzed because of stability and rollover problems knew about more than 25 years ago.

Two young boys, Gregory and Ryan, made a touching video tribute to their mother who was killed in an Explorer rollover after at tire failed.  The boys made the video to raise awareness about the Explorer’s stability problems.

This crash not only highlights the stability problems of the Explorer, but importance of buckling up.  The best protection is provided by wearing a seat belt and ensuring kids are properly secured in child seats.  However, seat belts are only effective if designed properly and used properly.

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(c) Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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