Topeka The Kansas Highway Patrol is getting its Ford Crown Victoria patrol vehicles retrofitted in light of reports the car model is prone to erupt in flames when struck from behind at high speeds.
Department spokesman 2nd Lt. John Eichkorn said Ford was installing at its own expense a protective plastic shield around the vehicles' gas tanks. The automaker is modifying all of the patrol's approximately 450 highway patrol vehicles.
Most of them, including a Crown Victoria used by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, already have been refitted, officials said.
Eichkorn added that 185 new Crown Victorias the department will receive in July will already have the shields in place.
"The agency is confident that Ford is doing all that it can in making the vehicle as safe as can be," Eichkorn said.
Last month, a Missouri trooper was killed when his Crown Victoria burst into flames after being struck during a traffic stop. Since 1983, 14 officers across the nation have died in crashes when the gas tank of their Crown Victoria caught fire after being hit from behind.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has called on national highway officials to investigate gas tank explosions involving the Crown Victoria.
The vehicle is the most popular model used by law enforcement agencies, with roughly 350,000 on the road.
The Lawrence Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Kansas University Public Safety all have fleets of Crown Victorias. All have been modified to avoid the safety problems.
A number of police departments around the country have filed lawsuits against Ford, alleging the Crown Victoria is unsafe and has a design flaw that causes the gas tank fires.
The automaker has denied the cars are dangerous, but initiated a program to retrofit cars and periodically advise departments on safer ways to place items in the trunk, Eichkorn said.
Last week, the city of Dallas decided not to buy any more Crown Victoria police cruisers after an officer there died in a gas tank fire.
But Kansas planned to continue to buy the Crown Victoria, Eichkorn said.
"We will continue to watch what is happening and see what Ford is telling us," he said.