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IIHS Rates Midsize Cars for Passenger-Side Protection

IIHS Rates Midsize Cars for Passenger-Side Protection

By Joseph Dobrian, October 19, 2017
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has introduced a new crash-test program, the passenger-side small overlap frontal test, which it hopes will ensure that automakers pay extra attention to the safety of front passengers, as well as the driver. IIHS developed the test, according to the Institute, after it became clear that some automakers were paying less attention to the right side of the vehicle in terms of small overlap front crash protection. Under the new requirements, a “Good” or “Acceptable” passenger-side rating will be required to qualify for the Institute’s coveted “2018 Top Safety Pick+” award.

The IIHS recently tested 13 midsize cars for passenger-side small overlap front protection, of which 10 earned a “Good” rating, one “Acceptable,” and two “Marginal.” By contrast to a group of 2014-16 model small SUVs tested for research, none of the 2017-18 midsize cars had a “Poor” or “Marginal” structural rating. Instead, the biggest problem in the new group was inconsistent air bag protection, which would put passengers’ heads at risk, in five of the cars tested.

“The midsize cars we tested didn’t have any glaring structural deficiencies on the right side,” said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Becky Mueller. “Optimizing air bags and safety belts to provide better head protection for front-seat passengers appears to be the most urgent task now.”

The driver-side small overlap front test sends a vehicle into a barrier at 40 mph with just 25% of the vehicle’s front end overlapping the barrier on the driver side. It mimics what happens when the front driver-side corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or with an obstacle such as a tree or utility pole.

The Institute introduced the small overlap test in 2012, and it has been part of the IIHS awards criteria since 2013. IIHS notes that automakers have recently been changing vehicle structures and restraint systems to improve their ratings on this test—on which a majority of vehicles were originally rated “Poor” or “Marginal.”

To improve performance, manufacturers strengthened the occupant compartment and in some cases extended the bumper and added engagement structures. Many also had to lengthen the side curtain air bags to provide better forward coverage.

Mueller recalled that she oversaw the development of a passenger-side test that is virtually identical to the driver-side one, except that the vehicle overlaps the barrier on the right side. A passenger dummy also is seated in front.

In June 2016, IIHS published provisional results of passenger-side small overlap tests of small SUVs with “Good” driver-side ratings. In that group, only the 2016 Hyundai Tucson would have earned a “Good” passenger-side rating.

“When we published that research, we said we were considering adding a passenger-side test to our awards criteria,” Mueller says. “Clearly, some manufacturers were paying attention. Many of the cars in this group are equipped with improved passenger air bags that appear to be designed to do well in our test and in an oblique test that the government is considering adding to its safety ratings.”

The 2017 models that receive “Good” ratings in the passenger-side small overlap front test include the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Lincoln MKZ, Mazda 6, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, and Nissan Maxima. The three 2018 models that receive “Good” ratings include the Subaru Outback, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta gets an “Acceptable” rating; the 2017 Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet Malibu get “Marginal” ratings. The Fusion, Accord, MKZ, Legacy, and Outback all received “Good” ratings in each sub-category of the test. The three lower-rated vehicles all received “Marginal” ratings for passenger restraints and kinematics.

The IIHS will accept automaker test data in lieu of conducting its own tests. If a model has a “Good” driver-side small overlap rating, automakers may submit video footage and data from a passenger-side test conducted using the IIHS protocol, and Institute staff will evaluate the information and assign a rating. IIHS will conduct occasional audit tests. The IIHS has used that process, known as test verification, to assign other types of ratings under certain circumstances. In the case of the passenger-side small overlap ratings, verification will allow more vehicles to vie for a “2018 Top Safety Pick+” award than the Institute would have time to test on its own.

For complete midsize car passenger-side crash test ratings, visit:
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