We seldom have the opportunity to applaud efforts of the automobile industry in the Report. But when their efforts to improve the safety of their vehicles start making a difference, we should take note and give credit where credit is due. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released a study demonstrating that the redesigned front-ends in the newer model SUVs and pickups by the automobile industry have led to fewer injuries and deaths when colliding with passenger cars and minivans.
IIHS, a nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry, attributed the findings to a voluntary effort between the Institute and automakers that began in 2003. Automakers pledged to design the front ends of their SUVs and pickup trucks so that they would be less likely to kill passengers riding in smaller vehicles during a collision. Modern SUVs and pickups, the study found, were no more deadly than modern cars in front-to-front and front-to-side crashes, provided the SUVs and cars were of similar weight.
While a mismatch in vehicle mass would still heighten the risk of death, the geometric “compatibility” among SUV’s, pickups and cars lowers the risk. “In the past, you had both a geometry mismatch and a mass mismatch, leading to a pretty bad problem,” said Joe Nolan, the Institute’s Chief Administrative Officer and co-author of the study. As mentioned earlier, the program began in 2003 when it seemed likely that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would begin work on a compatibility standard. Instead, a voluntary program was proposed by several groups representing automakers, as well as the Insurance Institute.
The voluntary agreement contained two major measures. Primarily, cars would need to do a better job of protecting heads in side-impact crashes. Secondly, the fronts of SUVs and pickups would need to be designed to make them less likely to ride over a car’s bumper. NHTSA asked automakers to address the compatibility issue amid concern about the changing vehicle mix on U.S. roads. In response, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, and the Institute led a series of meetings in 2003 to come up with solutions. Participating automakers included BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
The companies agreed to build the front-ends of SUVs and pickups so that their energy-absorbing structures would line up better with those of cars, reducing the likelihood that an SUV or pickup would override a car in a collision. Better alignment allows both vehicles’ front-ends to manage the crash energy, helping to keep it away from the occupant compartments. The automakers also pledged to strengthen head protection in all vehicles in order to improve outcomes when an SUV or pickup strikes another vehicle in the side. They accomplished this by installing more head-protecting side airbags.
The recently-released study examined SUVs, pickup trucks, cars and minivans that were one to four years old in 2000-2001 and looked again at vehicles that were one to four years old in 2008-2009. Researchers separated each of those vehicle classes into weight categories that ascended by 500 pounds. Next, they compared the number of occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes between cars and minivans exclusively. The cars or minivans in which people were killed could have been of any age, size and weight.
In the largest reduction of vehicular deaths noted, the death rate for people in cars or minivans that were hit by SUVs weighing 3,000 to 3,499 pounds declined by 63 percent, from 44 deaths per million in 2000-2001 to 16 in 2008-2009. At the high end of the weight spectrum, the authors observed a 45 percent decline in deaths for SUVs that weighed more than 5,000 pounds.
Regarding the death rate for people in cars or minivans that were hit by other cars or minivans that weighed 3,000 to 3,499 pounds, the authors found that the death rate was virtually identical – 17 deaths per million – as when those cars were hit by SUVs, 16 deaths per million. In some weight categories, cars hit by other cars showed a lower death rate than cars hit by SUVs, but the difference was minimal.
Researchers attributed the improvements to the redesign of the front ends of SUVs and pickups, which were previously known to override the lower bumpers of vehicles they struck. The stronger architecture and proliferation of side-curtain air bags in cars and minivans was also a position factor according to the researchers. Joe Nolan, the Institute’s Chief Administrative Officer, made this observation:
By working together, the automakers got life-saving changes done quickly. The new design has made a big difference on the road.
What Mr. Noland had to say is pretty much what lawyers in our firm who handle product liability cases have been saying all along. When automakers decide to put safety over profits, life-changing results can be achieved. In this instance, the automobile industry as a whole made their SUVs and pickup trucks more compatible with the smaller passenger cars and minivans on the public highways. As a result, serious injuries and death rates have been dramatically reduced. We applaud the industry’s efforts in improving the safety of their vehicles. If you would like more information on this subject, contact Dana Taunton at 800-898-2034 or by email at Dana.Taunton@beasleyallen.com.
Source: New York Times and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s News Release.
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