Aug 17, 2007


“Luxury doesn’t always buy safety,” IIHS says of new side-impact testing

Arlington, Virginia – Three of six large car models earned the top rating of “Good” in new side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but one was only rated “Marginal”. The IIHS says the results “show a range of performance in how well large cars are designed to protect people in serious side crashes.”

The tests use a barrier designed to replicate the front end of a typical SUV or pickup truck, which strikes the tested vehicle in the side at 31 mph (49.8 km/hr).

The best performers were the Acura RL, Kia Amanti and Volvo S80, all 2007 models. The S80 also earned the IIHS’ 2007 Top Safety Pick award for superior overall crash protection, as it is rated “Good” in front, side and rear tests, and has electronic stability control as standard equipment.

The 2007 Cadillac STS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class earned “Acceptable” ratings in the side tests, while the worst performer was the 2008 BMW 5 Series, which earned the second-lowest rating of “Marginal”. All six cars were equipped with standard side airbags.

Side impacts are the second-most common fatal crash type, after frontal crashes; about 9,200 people in passenger vehicles were killed in side impacts in the U.S. in 2005. In crashes with other passenger vehicles during 2004-2005, 49 per cent of driver deaths in one- to three-year-old cars and minivans occurred in side impacts, up from 31 per cent in 1980-1981. During the same time, the proportion of driver deaths in frontal crashes declined from 61 to 46 per cent.

“These changes are attributable to two effects,” says IIHS president Adrian Lund. “There have been significant improvements in frontal crash protection – standard airbags, improved structural designs, and increased use of safety belts, for example. At the same time, growing sales of SUVs and pickups have exacerbated height mismatches among passenger vehicles, thereby increasing the risks to occupants of many vehicles struck in the side.”

Lund says that high price doesn’t always predict safety performance, noting that the Amanti was the lowest-priced of the group and one of the best performers, while the 5 Series was one of the most expensive and performed the worst. “The Amanti shows that you don’t have to buy an expensive car to get good protection in crashes with SUVs and pickup trucks,” he says.

The side structure of the Amanti allowed more intrusion than in the other cars in the group, but all of the injury measures recorded on the dummies were low, and the standard head curtain airbags for front- and back-seat occupants kept the dummies’ heads from hitting any hard structures, including the crash test barrier. The BMW 5 Series’ head-protecting airbags were effective, but torso protection was rated poor for the driver dummy, and measures recorded indicated that rib fractures and internal organ injuries would be likely to occur in a real-world crash of this severity, along with the possibility of a pelvic fracture.

For comparative evaluations of passenger vehicles tested, go to IIHS.org.

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