Ford reacts to controversy over its police cars' safety

CLEVELAND: As simmering controversy over police-car safety heats up, Ford Motor Co. is countering negative claims, issue by issue.

CLEVELAND: As simmering controversy over police-car safety heats up, Ford Motor Co. is countering negative claims, issue by issue.

A raft of individual and class-action lawsuits filed in recent years implicate fuel tanks on Ford Crown Victorias in the deaths of more than a dozen police officers killed in high-speed, rear-impact collisions that caused gas-tank explosions.

Attorneys have converged in Cleveland for multidistrict litigation proceedings so potential witnesses can give depositions relevant to various lawsuits in one location, said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley. Meanwhile, plaintiffs' lawyers are having a field day with information gleaned through discovery.

Dallas officials, for example, sued solely to obtain information, said City Attorney Madeleine Johnson. A Dallas police officer died in a rear-end collision in October.

"I want this car to be the safest possible car that it can be, and I want Ford to adequately address these issues," Johnson said.

Johnson conducted her latest press conference about the issue in late February, claiming Ford admitted its recommended fuel-tank safety shields allowed excessive leakage in crash tests. Her office is also pushing Ford to incorporate into patrol cruisers advanced technology used both in race cars and in new Lincolns designed to withstand terrorist attacks.

Ford tested puncture resistance, not leakage, at speeds far in excess of federal standards, and the technologies advocated by Dallas wouldn't translate well for police use, Kinley noted. "We are taking on each individual piece of information that is inaccurate," Kinley said of the Dallas release and other claims Ford considers erroneous.

In response to concerns raised by the Arizona attorney general, Ford formed two advisory committees last spring to study officer safety. Ford announced results in September, and said it would provide fuel-tank shields for all 350,000 patrol-model Crown Victorias on the road. The company also said that it would develop optional trunk containers for equipment that might puncture fuel tanks on rear impact. Ford also developed its www.cvpi. com website to provide safety information to police.

Overall, Ford hopes to communicate that while Crown Victorias are safe, the company wants to make them safer. Kinley also pointed out that consumers seldom face the high-risk traffic situations police routinely encounter.

Therefore, tank shields aren't needed for consumer models, she said.

Police agencies prefer full-sized, rear-wheel-drive sedans for patrol units, and since Chevrolet stopped making Caprices in 1996, the Crown Victoria has been the only vehicle fitting that description. About 85% of police cars in the US, along with nearly all highway patrol vehicles, are Crown Victorias.

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