Originally created 04/23/98

Feds consider telling consumers how quickly cars can stop



WASHINGTON -- Federal highway safety officials are considering giving the public information about brake performance, including how quickly different model autos can stop.

Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are studying whether to include relative braking information when they release the results of their vehicle crash tests each year.

"There is a (public) demand for braking performance information," George Soodoo, head of the NHTSA division that develops and maintains standards for brakes and other auto parts, said Wednesday.

Some 55 percent of safety complaints received by the agency are related to braking systems. Focus groups used by the agency indicate consumers want a simple measure of how quickly various cars, sport utility vehicles and pickups can stop, Soodoo said.

The agency is testing vehicles to arrive at a brake performance measure and officials will decide at the end of next year whether to go ahead.

Consumer groups applauded the move as a way to increase public safety.

"It's tremendous (because) it deals with avoiding crashes," said Gerald Donaldson, research director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

"Consumers would find that the braking ability in large sport utility vehicles is not nearly as good as a car. Hopefully, that will give them pause," he said.

But automakers expressed concern the government agency was stepping beyond its role of setting safety standards for vehicles.

"What people are looking for from government is reassurance the vehicles are safe," said Sue Cischke, Chrysler Corp.'s executive director of vehicle safety.

"If you're asking ... (federal regulators) to be the systems engineer for the vehicle, I'm not sure that's right for the consumer. It could be very confusing," she said.

The agency now releases results of safety crash tests on vehicles in head-on and side-impact collisions. Officials are considering expanding the information program not only to include brakes but also headlight efficiency -- the amount of lighting provided without glare to other motorists.

Relative stopping distances and headlight utility are not in the popular new-car buying guides.

The agency requires that cars stop in 194 feet or less when slowing from 60 mph, and light trucks -- such as pickups, sport utilities and minivans -- in 216 feet.

All but the heaviest sport utilities or pickups can meet the standard for cars, according to auto engineers.

Soodoo said the Japanese government since 1995 has been providing information to consumers about how long it takes cars to stop on an asphalt surface in wet or dry conditions. He said the tests "show some promise as information we might provide to consumers."