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Group says police
"SUVs should not be used in high pursuit because they just are unsafe vehicles in high-speed maneuvering and often in low-speed maneuvering and should not be a vehicle for a police fleet," Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told the Star-Bulletin yesterday.
Of the 1,264 vehicles that the Honolulu Police Department subsidizes, 716, or 56 percent, are SUVs.
Police said officer Issac Veal veered onto the left shoulder of the southbound lanes of the H-2 freeway, but when he tried to drive back onto the freeway, his 2001 Dodge Durango traveled right, crossing two lanes, striking a barrier and flipping several times. Investigators said they believe speeding was a factor.
New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that people in SUVs were nearly 11 percent more likely to die in an accident than people in cars in 2003.
The federal division says SUVs have a higher likelihood of rolling over because of their higher center of gravity. Its Web site states: "Many rollovers occur when drivers overcorrect their steering as a panic reaction to an emergency or to a wheel going off the pavement's edge. At highway speeds, overcorrecting or excessive steering can cause the driver to lose control, which can force the vehicle to slide sideways and roll over."
Ditlow said even a trained driver like a police officer could readily lose control of an SUV in a police pursuit.
He said many seat belts are not tested to see how well they hold in rollovers.
Police said they do not know whether Veal was wearing a seat belt, as is required by law. Veal was not pursuing another vehicle when his SUV crashed.
The department began subsidizing vehicles in the early 1990s, with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers' input in deciding which vehicles to approve.
"Every vehicle has some potential for danger," said Alex Garcia, SHOPO Oahu Chapter chairman. "Unless we're all driving Hummers, we're never going to be perfectly safe."
He said all subsidized vehicles meet national safety standards.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Putzulu could not recall another case in which an on-duty officer's SUV has rolled over. He said it is the officer's responsibility to look at what fits his needs and consider safety issues when choosing a subsidized vehicle.
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