The Associated Pres
WASHINGTON -- A 10-month federal investigation ended Thursday without finding a defect in the Ford Crown Victoria police cars linked to the fiery deaths of a dozen officers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the car exceeds federal standards for fuel system safety and the rate of fires was not much greater than with Chevrolet Caprice police cars.
Each of the 12 officers' deaths since 1983 involved a Crown Victoria gas tank catching fire, often after being hit in the rear in a high-speed crash.
NHTSA said the car meets current federal standards that require a vehicle to withstand a rear crash at 30 miles per hour without leaking fuel. The agency also said the vehicle did not leak fuel during a test at 50 miles per hour, which the agency has proposed to be the new standard.
"Clearly, we know the vehicle meets the regulation so it's great to see this has happened, but it's not a surprise," said Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Sara Tatchio.
The agency opened its investigation on Nov. 27, 2001, and has found 26 fires that led to 16 deaths and 11 injuries. Four of the deaths were from crashes involving civilian Crown Victoria cars.
NHTSA found that from 1992-2001, vehicles with the Crown Victoria's fuel system involved in a rear crash caught fire 8 percent of the time, compared to 6.3 percent with the fuel system used in the Chevrolet Caprice.
NHTSA said almost all of the Crown Victoria fuel leaks occurred after a very high-speed crash and that many high-energy rear crashes did not lead to a significant fuel leak. Ford said the crashes that led to fires were almost always at speeds higher than 60 mph with some as high as 84 mph.
Ford agreed Friday to pay for the installation of shields around the gas tanks on Crown Victoria police cars to reduce the chances that the vehicles would burst into flames after a crash.
There are 350,000 Crown Victoria cars used by police departments nationwide -- approximately 80 percent of police cars on the road in the United States.
Ford officials insisted the Crown Victoria is a safe car, and modifications to the consumer version are not necessary because most drivers don't put submit cars to the pressures that police officers do.