The US government is expected to give consumers the most precise information yet on ratings for vehicle rollover dangers on Monday, but safety advocates and some car makers reportedly say methods used to measure the risk still fall short.

According to Reuters, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will for the first time issue rankings for rollover propensity in single-vehicle crashes, assigning a percentage risk for different 2004 models. Many popular sport utilities, pickups and minivans, because of their high centre of gravity, are more prone to roll than cars.

The report said statistics show rollovers represent only a small fraction of crashes on US roads but a quarter of all traffic deaths, which rose to 43,000 in 2003 – most rollover deaths occur in single-vehicle accidents.

The agency will also release a preliminary review of technology designed to electronically counter dangerous side-to-side vehicle movements that can trigger rollover, the report said.

Electronic stability systems, which activate subtle shifts in braking and steering controls, are mainly found on luxury and imported cars in the United States, but they will become standard on more domestic vehicles in 2005, Reuters noted.

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Under the system now in place, vehicles are given one to five stars depending on how likely they are to roll over, Reuters said. Most passenger cars receive at least four stars, indicating low risk, while it is more common for SUVs and other light trucks to get three, or sometimes two.

“We are supplementing the star ratings with two additional pieces of information – the percentage of roll in a single-vehicle crash and how a vehicle compares to other vehicles in its class,” Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the traffic safety agency, told Reuters.

The news agency said Monday’s announcement will likely focus on sport utility vehicles – the agency’s administrator, Jeffrey Runge, has been critical of SUV safety and has accelerated efforts to reduce rollover deaths in SUVs by pushing for more seat-belt use, side air bags with head protection and stronger roofs.

Reuters said rollovers accounted for nearly 40% of fatal accidents that involved SUVs last year. Rollover deaths in those vehicles rose by 10% to 2,700 in 2003, government crash statistics showed.

The report said the government’s star system for rollover is based on two factors – a mathematical assessment of vehicle measurements called a static test, and a road test during which vehicles are turned sharply to see if they tip. More weight is given to static results than to the road test, which was introduced this year.

“The dynamic test represents only a small fraction of real world rollovers,” Tyson said.

But consumer and safety groups reportedly remain critical of the agency’s methods for determining that risk. They want a more rigorous road test to better mimic real world conditions.

“We don’t like the fact that the overwhelming majority of rollovers are being measured with a static calculation,” Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told Reuters.

Car makers reportedly are also sceptical of the ratings, saying they make overly broad assumptions on vehicle stability based on limited information.

“There are so many other variables in the real world that have to be addressed,” Kristen Kinley, a Ford spokeswoman, told Reuters. “It (star rating) is not something that consumers should rely on 100%.”