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IIHS: Vehicles with good driver-side protection may leave passengers at risk

Published: June 27, 2016 | Arlington, US

According to a recent study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), front seat passengers in a car are at more risk as compared to the driver and other passengers. The Institute conducted 40 mph passenger-side small overlap tests on seven small SUVs with good driver-side small overlap ratings. Only one of the vehicles, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, performed at a level corresponding to a good rating, and the others ran the gamut from poor to acceptable.

2015-Toyota-RAV4-driverTheir investigation focuses on what level of protection a front seat passenger may expect in “small overlap” crashes. They are saying that cars with good driver side protection may leave passengers at risk. IIHS introduced the small overlap test in 2012, following the success of the moderate overlap front test in spurring automakers to make improvements. While the moderate overlap test involves 40 percent of the width of the vehicle, the small overlap test involves just 25 percent. It is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

Becky Mueller, an IIHS senior research engineer and the lead author of the study, said:

This is an important aspect of occupant protection that needs more attention. More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014.

IIHS conducts its tests for frontal ratings with a driver dummy and with the barrier overlapping the driver side. The reason is simple: Every vehicle on the road has a driver, but there isn’t always a passenger riding along.

David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, said:

It’s not surprising that automakers would focus their initial efforts to improve small overlap protection on the side of the vehicle that we conduct the tests on. In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles. As time goes by, though, we would hope they ensure similar levels of protection on both sides.

The recent passenger-side tests show how big the differences can be. In this group of small SUVs, most didn’t perform as well when they were crashed into a barrier on the right side instead of the left. That was even true of models that appeared symmetrical after removing bumper covers and other external components. The 2015 Toyota RAV4 and the 2014 Nissan Rogue were the only vehicles to appear asymmetrical. In the passenger-side test, the RAV4 was the worst performer. If the Institute issued ratings for passenger-side protection, the RAV4 would earn a poor rating. The Rogue would earn a marginal.

In addition to the seven passenger-side small overlap tests, Institute engineers conducted two passenger-side moderate overlap tests to make sure there weren’t any differences in performance in that type of crash. One visually symmetrical vehicle, the 2015 Honda CR-V, and one asymmetrical vehicle, the RAV4, were chosen for these tests. There was little difference from the driver-side moderate overlap tests, and both vehicles would receive a good passenger-side moderate overlap rating.

IIHS passenger-side small overlap ratings would remedy that situation. The Institute could start such a program next year and make it a requirement for one of its safety awards as early as 2018.

Source: IIHS

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