April 3, 2006

IIHS to make major change in crashworthiness evaluations

Arlington, Virginia – The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has announced that it will make a major change to its frontal crash test program, which it has conducted since 1995. Vehicles that have not changed substantially from their predecessors will be rated using data from the manufacturers’ tests, and only substantially redesigned vehicles will be tested by the IIHS.

The IIHS says that the change is because of the success of the program; when it began evaluating frontal crashworthiness by vehicle group in the mid-1990s, about half of the 80 vehicles tested earned “marginal” or “poor” ratings. Manufacturers responded by changing their vehicle designs to improve frontal crashworthiness, with the result that 88 of the 106 current passenger vehicle designs evaluated by the IIHS have received the top “good” rating. Only two are rated “marginal”, and none are rated “poor”.

“This program has been a huge success,” says IIHS president Adrian Lund, “and because of this success, frontal offset tests no longer are providing consumers with much useful information to differentiate among vehicles’ frontal crashworthiness. We’ve reached the point where we can declare victory and move on.”

Under the new program, manufacturers will provide detailed information from their offset tests, including video; the IIHS will assess the information, assign ratings, and conduct audit tests to verify the results. Only redesigned vehicles with immediate predecessors that earned the top “good” rating in previous IIHS are eligible for verification. Substantially redesigned vehicles with significant changes in size, weight or body style are not eligible, and will continue to be tested by the IIHS.

The new test methods are in line with IIHS policy, in place since the beginning of the program, which saw manufacturers asked to confirm whether the Institute’s ratings could be carried over from one model year to the next. Based on this information, the IIHS has been carrying over ratings for vehicles with no significant design changes.

“The manufacturers will assume a bigger role now that our frontal test is a de facto industry standard,” Lund says. “This is how it should work. When most every vehicle passes the test, it’s time to simply keep an eye out to make sure manufacturers continue the good work. In the meantime, we’ll keep the pressure on the manufacturers to improve crashworthiness in side impacts and to design seat/head restraints to reduce the risk of whiplash in rear crashes. We’ll also look at other areas where crashworthiness improvements still can be made.”

Currently, nine vehicles have been selected for the first round of test verification, and all are new or redesigned models for the 2006 or 2007 model year: Toyota Camry, Buick Lucerne, Hyundai Azera, Chevrolet Impala, Toyota RAV4, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Mercedes M-Class and Dodge Ram 1500. The manufacturers supplied information on basic vehicle and test parameters, measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury data recorded on a dummy, and video of the tests. IIHS engineers reviewed the information and rated the vehicles based on the same evaluation parameters that always have been used. Eight rated “good”, while the Impala rated “acceptable”. A major benefit of the program is that the IIHS can provide frontal ratings to consumers earlier in the model year.

To ensure manufacturers’ good faith participation in the new evaluation procedures, the IIHS is conducting audit tests, selecting the Buick Lucerne for the first audit. The test results confirmed the data supplied by the manufacturer from its own test.

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