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SUV proponent takes on safety critics

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

Jean Jennings from Automobile Magazine.
Jean Jennings from Automobile Magazine.

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(CNN) -- As the U.S. Congress was set to hold hearings on the safety of SUVs on Wednesday, CNN anchor Bill Hemmer interviewed Jean Jennings, editor of Automobile Magazine.

HEMMER: To get good grades, SUV and pickup makers have built front ends so stiff [says a USA Today article in a report on a test of SUVs] that they can batter smaller cars to bits. Your take on this?

JENNINGS: Well, good for USA Today for pointing [this] out -- that is not a government test, by the way. That was a test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which we haven't really talked about. These are one-off tests, and they not real-world tests. The media has been very, very eager to run the result of these, though. And because of that, the industry has tried to meet these test requirements, which are actually done at speeds 10 miles higher than the government requires.

HEMMER: Jean, cut through it -- are you saying tests are not reliable? Are they not dependable? Do you think they're skewed? What is it?

JENNINGS: They're skewed. They're not reliable. And they're run by the voice of the insurance institute, one of the last great unregulated industries, along with funeral directors.

HEMMER: Take this, though, from USA Today. It also says the research in the article finds little proof that tests actually lead to vehicles that are better protecting their own occupants.

JENNINGS: Well, I think that's probably true. ...Y ou know, they talk about compatibility, these vehicles not being compatible to cars on the road. We have been sharing the road with semi-trucks, with pickup trucks, with delivery vans for years. I think that the biggest mechanical problem is the loose nut behind the wheel.

HEMMER: Who's doing what, not wearing a safety belt?

JENNINGS: Well, not wearing safety belt in the big ones, which is causing, by the way, the fatalities in the quote-unquote rollover problem. Seventy-six percent of the fatalities in SUV rollovers are from people not wearing their safety belt.

HEMMER: Listen, Jean, I can't speak for the loose nuts out there, but you mentioned those safety belts and the rollover issue. Look at the numbers we can put on the screen. We talked about this a month ago -- 3 percent of all accidents across the country are from rollovers, but 32 percent of all fatalities come from them. And of that number, 61 percent of the people who die as a result of an accident from an SUV is because of the rollover factor. You mentioned those safety belts. Is that playing the biggest part in this, or is it more?

JENNINGS: ... Seventy-six percent of those fatalities are people not wearing their seat belts. You know, how can you account for that? I say the people that are driving these vehicles are not driving them properly. Let's put our attention to driver safety and driver training. I live in Michigan. I have a big SUV. When it's snowing and icy, I go 40, 45, 50, and I'm passed regularly by people going 80.

HEMMER: In the short time we have here, what's going to happen in Congress today? What happens with lawmakers? Where's this issue headed?

JENNINGS: I think the government -- the industry is going to try and show that they're building safer vehicles, smaller vehicles, or trying to increase capacity in their plants for crossovers and mid-sized SUVs.

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