City's crash test spawns controversy

By Mike Scott
The crash footage showed how gas tanks of certain GM trucks could catch fire in a sideways collision. But it was “Dateline NBC” that was hurt when it was revealed that the test had been rigged and viewers misled.

During the airing of the 1993 expose, NBC said the truck’s gas tank had been ruptured, yet an x-ray showed it hadn’t. Instead, it was the network’s reputation that was damaged when NBC consultants set off detonators under the truck to spark a fire, split seconds before the crash.

Ten years later, a new controversy has erupted in a car crash test, this involving the Dallas Police Department and their Crown Victoria cruisers, the most popular police car on the road. Like the “Dateline NBC” case, there is evidence to show consultants for the City of Dallas distorted the crash test to force a certain outcome.

According to news reports, personal injury lawyers representing the city in its lawsuit against Ford over the death last year of Officer Patrick Metzler paid for the test.

Metzler was handling traffic control in a construction zone when his police car was struck from behind by a drunk driver traveling at a high speed. The drunk driver, whose blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit, is now serving a 15–year prison term for vehicular manslaughter.

Ford has now produced a trunk pack, which serves as a buffer to protect the gas tank and reduce the risk of fuel tank punctures. In addition, a blue ribbon panel of law enforcement officers has developed recommendations and detailed instructions on what items should be carried in a trunk and how to properly pack them. The panel was formed jointly by then-Arizona Attorney General (and current Governor) Janet Napolitano and Ford.

Critics, most notably the City of Dallas, have argued that the Crown Victoria is defectively designed and vulnerable to fuel tank explosions even when equipped with safety gear. Ford contends gas tank punctures can be minimized, but it is impossible to prevent fuel leaks when cars are rear-ended at break-neck speed.

Certainly opinions can differ but the crash test financed by the city’s outside lawyers appears to have been modified to pierce the gas tank.

In the crash test, the car’s trunk contained an ammunition box with sand and other items that were welded together, so when another vehicle struck the back of the police car the crowbar went through the rear wall of the trunk and pierced the fuel tank. Why would anyone aim the sharp end of a crowbar directly at the fuel tank? The City of Dallas never revealed this following their 75 mph crash test.

The Dallas City attorney says the city-commissioned test is the only independent study of the Crown Victoria’s safety. Yet Mark Arndt, the president of the company that oversaw the testing, is himself an expert witness for the City of Dallas in its lawsuit against Ford. Arndt makes his living as a hired gun testifying against carmakers.

It is admirable that the City of Dallas is willing to test, and apparently retrofit their police vehicles with trunk packs to protect the safety of police officers. However, they do a disservice to law enforcement everywhere when they allow a crash test to be modified and overstate the facts.

Mike Scott is a board member of Corpus Christi-based Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a legal watchdog group.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

2500 City West Boulevard, Suite 300 • Houston, Texas 77042
E-mail: sosueme@ • Administrative: (713) 267-2302 • Fax: (713) 267-2267