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IIHS Revises Crash Test Program for 2013

8/15/2012
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has revised its crash test program, introducing a new type of evaluation called the small overlap frontal impact test and renaming the former frontal-offset impact measure to moderate overlap frontal impact test.

"Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year," IIHS President Adrian Lund said. "Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities. This new test program is based on years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes and then replicating them in our crash test facility to determine how people are being seriously injured and how cars can be designed to protect them better. We think this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection."

The new small overlap frontal impact crash test is designed to evaluate what happens when a car, truck or SUV collides with a tree, utility pole, or an oncoming vehicle of similar size and weight. In the new test, an unoccupied vehicle is accelerated to 40 mph, and the left corner of the vehicle--which is 25% of the vehicle's total width--is crashed into a 5-foot-tall barrier. For the test, the IIHS uses a 50th-percentile male adult crash-test dummy to learn more about the injuries sustained in these types of collisions.

The IIHS explains that the key to occupant protection in any type of collision is a strong safety cage built into the vehicle's structure that is designed to resist deformation and which maintains the integrity of the passenger compartment. As Lund explained, "It's Packaging 101. If you ship a fragile item in a strong box, it's more likely to arrive at its destination without breaking. In crashes, people are less vulnerable to injury if the occupant compartment remains intact."

According to the IIHS, modern vehicles are designed with safety cages and crush zones that are typically located in the middle of a vehicle's front structure, leaving the outer edges vulnerable. If a vehicle crashes into a tree, pole, or another vehicle on either outer edge, the front wheel, suspension components, and firewall absorb the force of the impact rather than a safety cage with a built-in crush zone. Typically, these parts are not engineered for this job.

"These are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that," Lund said. "Most automakers design their vehicles to ace our moderate overlap frontal test and NHTSA's full-width frontal test, but the problem of small overlap crashes hasn't been addressed. We hope our new rating program will change that."

Ratings for the first round of vehicles to be evaluated using the new small overlap frontal impact test are complete, and only three of the 11 entry luxury sedans tested received a "Good" or "Acceptable" rating. For more details and to view all of the IIHS crash test ratings, visit iihs.org.

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