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Critics of the Suzuki Samurai have failed to demonstrate the sport-utility vehicle has an excessive tendency to roll over, federal regulators said Thursday in denying a recall petition.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did, however, begin proceedings to establish standards to protect drivers of all light-duty vehicles "against unreasonable risk of rollover."Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, called for a ban on the Samurai in June, saying the vehicle "literally trips over its own feet."

More than 150,000 of the vehicles have been sold in th United States.

NHTSA rejected a petition by the Center for Auto Safety, a public-interest group often at odds with the auto industry and its regulators, asking for a safety recall of the Samurai.

"The rollover crash involvement of the Samurai appears to be within the range of most other light utility vehicles," the agency said. "Rollovers where they have occurred often appear to have been influenced by adverse driver and environmental factors, such as high-risk driving maneuvers, drinking, low ambient light and lack of driver familiarity (with) either the vehicle or the road."

The Samurai's rollover rate, based on a study of 1986- and 1987-model vehicles, was six per 100,000 vehicles, NHTSA said. The Ford Bronco II, by comparison, had a rollover rate of about 19 per 100,000 vehicles. The General Motors S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy had a rollover rate identical to the Samurai's.

American Suzuki Motor Corp., the Japanese automaker's U.S. subsidiary, said it "claimed victory in its defense of the 4-wheel-drive Suzuki Samurai."

NHTSA's decision "supports claims the Samurai is safe and should put to rest the inaccurate and misleading attacks on the vehicle," Suzuki said in Brea, Calif. It said it was pleased "that the unfounded and inaccurate accusations about the Samurai made by so-called consumer groups did not color NHTSA's judgement on this matter."

The Center for Auto Safety said it would file a petition asking NHTSA to reconsider its decision.

"Despite 113 rollovers, 120 injuries and 25 deaths, NHTSA refuses to order a recall because it finds other utility vehicles . . . are also hazardous," the center said. "If this were the law, then the Justice Department would refuse to prosecute one mass murderer because there are other mass murderers."