For the first time, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has conducted crash tests on small SUVs to measure front-corner impact, which accounts for about 24 percent of injuries and deaths from frontal crashes. It was reported that only two of the 13 vehicles tested received passing grades. That’s not good and should get the attention of NHTSA, as well as automakers.
Eleven SUVs received “marginal” or “poor” ratings, with the lowest rated being the Ford Escape. It was reported that the Escape had poor structural performance, with there being a lot of intrusion into the occupant compartment. Joining the Escape in the “poor” category were the Buick Encore, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot and Kia Sportage. The BMW X1, Honda CR-V, two-door Jeep Wrangler, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue and Volkswagen Tiguan were placed in the “marginal” category.
In the test, the vehicle hits a barrier at 40 miles per hour with just one-quarter of its front bumper. The impact occurs on the left side, just in front of the driver’s seat. This concentrates crash forces in a small area that’s outside of the strong crash safety structures built into most new vehicles. About a quarter of the serious and fatal injuries in frontal crashes are caused by “small overlap” impacts similar to this, according to IIHS. These crashes can also cause severe foot and leg injuries as the car’s front wheel is pushed back into the passenger compartment. Real small overlap crashes often happen when vehicles leave the road and hit trees or utility poles.
The small overlap test is just one of several crash tests performed by the Institute. Most vehicles already do well in the other crash tests. In defense of their vehicles’ overall safety, Chrysler, General Motors and other manufacturers pointed out that their SUVs earned the Institute’s Top Safety Pick award. Ford Motor Co. said in a statement:
Ford takes seriously every industry development related to vehicle crash performance. This is the first time IIHS has conducted this type of test on small SUVs. We are reviewing its findings in the context of our current design evaluations.
It should be noted that the progress by automakers when it comes to safety is appreciated. Joe Nolan, the Institute’s vice president for vehicle research, observed:
With the redesigned Forester, Subaru’s engineers set out to do well in our new test, and they succeeded. This is exactly how we hoped manufacturers would respond to improve protection for people in these kinds of serious frontal crashes.
When breaking down the test results into more specific units, such as the crash protection provided by a vehicle’s body and how well the crash test dummy’s movements were controlled, the Institute pointed the Rogue out as an example of poor structural protection. After the crash test, the Rogue’s door frame was almost touching the driver’s seat, according to the Institute.
Small overlap crashes are dangerous, in part, because the vehicle spins violently after impact, causing an occupant to move sideways, away from areas that are protected by airbags. Also, the vehicle itself can be contorted so that airbags end up not being in the proper locations to protect passengers. For instance, in the Jeep Patriot, the steering wheel moved up and to the right allowing the crash test dummy’s head to slide off the airbag.
Sources: ABC News and CNN.com
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