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IIHS Rates Small SUVs for Passenger-Side Safety

IIHS Rates Small SUVs for Passenger-Side Safety

By Joseph Dobrian, April 04, 2018

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has conducted a new round of evaluations of small SUVs, and have found that five of the seven models evaluates earn Good ratings (the IIHS’s highest) for occupant protection in a passenger-side small overlap front crash.

The IIHS has now evaluated 16 small SUVs in the passenger-side small overlap front test, which was introduced in 2017 to encourage manufacturers to offer the same level of protection to both front-seat passengers and drivers in this type of crash.

2018 BMW X1 passenger-side small overlap frontal crash test photoThe BMW X1; Chevrolet Equinox and its twin, the GMC Terrain; Jeep Compass, and Mitsubishi Outlander earn Good ratings in the passenger-side small overlap front test. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earns a Marginal rating, and the Ford Escape earns a Poor rating. The Euqinox is new to this category for the 2018 model year, having dropped some weight; it had formerly been classified as midsize.

In the driver-side small overlap front test, a vehicle travels at 40 mph toward a barrier, with 25 percent of the vehicle’s front end overlapping the barrier. The test mimics what happens when the front driver-side corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or with an immovable obstacle such as a tree or utility pole. The passenger-side test is virtually identical to the driver-side test, except the vehicle overlaps the barrier on the right side. Instead of just a driver dummy, a passenger dummy also sits in front.

No ‘Plus’ Awards—Yet
A Good or Acceptable passenger-side rating is required, if a vehicle is to qualify for the IIHS 2018 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award. A Good rating for the headlights is also required. To earn TOP SAFETY PICK, vehicles must achieve Good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests; an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention; and at least an Acceptable rating for headlights. The Outlander is one of nine small SUVs that have qualified for a 2018 TOP SAFETY PICK award. However, no small SUV has yet earned the “plus” award, usually because they lack a Good rating for headlights.

None of the newly rated 2018 models earns better than Acceptable marks for structure. The Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are the only small SUVs evaluated so far to earn Good ratings for structure in the passenger-side small overlap front test. The Ford Escape received a Poor rating, since as intruding structure seriously compromised space for the right-front passenger, and hip injuries could result from a severe crash. The Escape earns an Acceptable rating in the driver-side small overlap front test.

“Disparities like this one are why we decided to formally rate the passenger side in the small overlap test after five years of evaluating only the driver side,” said Becky Mueller, a senior research engineer with the Institute who helped develop the passenger-side small overlap front test. “Manufacturers shouldn’t short-change protection for front seat passengers.”

Side Air Bags Don’t Deploy
The tests show a failure of the side curtain airbags in the Escape and Outlander Sport to deploy. This contributes to the Escape’s Marginal rating and the Outlander Sport’s Poor rating for restraints and kinematics.

“That’s not something we expect to see after so many years of crash testing,” Mueller said. “Side curtain airbags should deploy in crashes like this.”

Without side airbag protection, the IIHS explains, the right front passenger would be vulnerable to contact with side structure and outside objects in a small overlap front crash. In the Escape, the dummy’s head contacted the front airbag but then rolled around the right side. In the Outlander Sport, the dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the right side. This could allow the head to move far enough forward to hit the upper interior trim panel on the door.

The IIHS sometimes uses a process known as “test verification,” which allows automakers to submit their own test data and video. In the case of the small overlap front crash test, vehicles with Good driver-side ratings qualify to be rated on the basis of the automaker’s own test data, if the automaker follows IIHS protocol. 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 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award than the Institute would have time to test on its own.

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