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July 01, 2002
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Ford to Probe Safety of Its Police Cars

Ford to Probe Safety of Its Police Cars;
Autos: Panels will review the design of the Crown Victoria's gas tank after fatal crashes.


Copyright 2002 / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times...06/26/2002

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday that it will set up two panels to investigate the version of the Crown Victoria sedan it produces as a police car after a number of fatal accidents in which the vehicle's gas tank caught fire.

Arizona Atty. Gen. Janet Napolitano met with Ford Vice President for Environmental and Safety Engineering Sue Cischke and other executives to press for action in the wake of the deaths of three Arizona policemen in four years. All died when the gas tanks on their Crown Victorias exploded after being hit from the rear.

Ford pledged to undertake detailed crash testing of the cars, known as Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, and consider measures such as adding metal shields to protect the gas tank, or using heavy-duty "bladders" inside the gas tanks to prevent fuel leaks.

"I think we have a concrete step forward ... so long as Ford is treating this as their No. 1 priority," Napolitano told reporters outside Ford's headquarters.

There was no talk in the meeting of recalling the Crown Victoria, or of compensation to the families of at least 10 police officers who have died in similar accidents around the country.

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Ford also is not considering fixes to the civilian version of the Crown Victoria, its sister vehicle the Mercury Grand Marquis, or the Lincoln Town Car, all of which share a similar platform in which the gas tank is located behind the rear axle, which critics say is unsafe.

Police cruisers are put in different situations than civilian sedans, such as being parked alongside freeways where such crashes tend to occur, Cischke said in an appearance with Napolitano.

Ford will set up a task force of technical experts from various industries and the military to examine engineering solutions to prevent similar fires. It also will participate in a blue-ribbon panel of nine members to be named by Ford and by the Arizona attorney general's office to consider factors such as parking positions and lighting conditions.

David Perry, a Texas attorney who has represented five victims of Crown Victoria police car fires, said the cars should be recalled and that investigative panels are a delaying tactic that puts law enforcement workers at risk.

"There is no need to delay making a commitment to fix the cars in order to do research," Perry said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the police Interceptors in November. NHTSA will not comment on the probe because it is still ongoing, but confirms it sent an investigator to Arizona this week.



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