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New Crash Test Ups the Ante for Safety

IIHS Crash Test

The  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has established a new variety of frontal crash test for cars, and automakers will no doubt be scrambling to catch up. The new test is called the Small Overlap Frontal Crash Test, and it measures the effect of only 25% of the front of a vehicle hitting a barrier at 40 mph. Previous tests measured full frontal impact at 35 mph, and a 40% offset impact at 40 mph.

"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," Institute President Adrian Lund says. "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."

Because autos rely on the vehicle structure in front of the passenger compartment to act as a “crumple-zone” to absorb impact energy, the IIHS believes this small overlap test better shows the integrity of the passenger safety cage, because more of the impact is absorbed there.

"These are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that," Lund says. "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."

Eleven midsize luxury and near-luxury cars were tested, and only two earned “good” ratings, the Acura TL and Volvo S60, and one earned “acceptable”, the Lincoln MKZ. The rest all rated “marginal” or “poor.” This category of vehicle was chosen by the IIHS because they tend to be on the forefront of safety technology. For the full results, see this chart from IIHS.  

While these results could seem alarming, it should be noted that vehicles are safer now than ever before, thanks in part to testing by IIHS and NHTSA. Manufacturers respond to these studies with safety advancements because nobody wants the poor publicity associated with poor crash test results. All-in-all, good news for the auto buyer.