Uneven Coverage: When Good May Not Be Good Enough

Much has been made in recent years about what is referred to as an offset-frontal crash.  It is estimated that about 45 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are of this type.  While there is currently no direct Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard  (FMVSS) that sets a uniform standard for how vehicles should respond to such an occurrence, automakers have been engineering changes to improve vehicle performance in these types of situations.

While drivers of vehicles with good small overlap front ratings from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) can expect to be protected well in a frontal crash involving the left corner of the vehicle, what about front passenger safety in a right side small overlap crash?   A recent IIHS study shows that good protection doesn’t always extend across the front seat.

The IIHS recently conducted 40 mph passenger-side small overlap test on seven small SUVs with good driver-side small overlap ratings.  Only one of the vehicles performed at a level corresponding to a good rating.   As a result, the IIHS is considering instituting a passenger-side rating as part of its TOP SAFETY PICK criteria.

According to Beck Mueller, an IIHS senior research engineer and lead author of the study.” “More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014.”

The Institute 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.

The challenge is that small overlap crashes bypass a typical vehicle’s main front structure.  As a result, there is less of the design of the vehicle’s main front structure to absorb and/or dissipate the energy generated in such a crash.  While automakers have made a host of structural changes to make the driver less likely to be injured in such a crash, the same has not been true for the front passenger.  The IIHS passenger-side small overlap ratings would remedy that situation.

The Institute may start such a program next year and make it a requirement for one of its safety awards as early as 2018.

It is hopeful that automakers will respond quickly with redesigns that will resolve this inequity of front seat passenger safety.  Since the original small overlap test was introduced for the driver’s side protection, 13 automotive manufacturers made structural changes to 97 vehicles.  Of these, nearly three-quarters earned a good rating after the changes.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

Posted in Gizmos & Gadgets, On the Road

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