April 20, 2004


Side impact crash tests demonstrate importance of side and head airbags

Arlington, Virginia – The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord equipped with optional side airbags are the only inexpensive midsize cars to earn good ratings in side impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Chevrolet Malibu with optional side airbags is rated acceptable. Ten other midsize car designs earned the lowest rating of poor. The test simulates what happens when a pickup or SUV strikes a passenger vehicle in the side at 31 mph.

The Camry, Accord, and Malibu without side airbags are rated poor for side impact protection. Other car models that earned poor ratings are the Suzuki Verona, Mazda6, Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring, Nissan Altima, Saturn L Series, Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima, and Mitsubishi Galant. The Institute’s side impact test results are a relatively new addition to the frontal offset crash test ratings the Institute has been providing to consumers since 1995. This is the first set of Institute side impacts involving cars.

“Manufacturers have made major improvements in the protection vehicles provide to occupants in frontal crashes,” says Institute president Brian O’Neill. “Most new vehicles do well in the Institute’s 40 mph frontal offset crash test. We believe this new test will drive similar improvements in protection for occupants in side crashes.”

Side impacts are the second most common fatal crash type after frontal crashes. About 9,600 people in the U.S. were killed in side impacts in 2002, and in crashes between two passenger vehicles more driver deaths now occur in vehicles struck in the side than in the front. This contrasts with the past situation when there were many more deaths in frontal crashes.

“We simply haven’t made the same progress in protecting people in side impacts as we have in frontal crashes,” O’Neill points out.

The Institute tested the Camry and Accord twice, with and without optional side airbags. (If a vehicle has side airbags as an option, the Institute’s policy is to test the vehicle without the option. The manufacturer may request a second test with the optional airbags if it also reimburses the Institute for the cost of the vehicle.) In the tests of the Camry and Accord with side airbags, most injury measures for the front and rear passenger dummies were low. Both cars were equipped with side curtain airbags that deploy from the roof to protect people’s heads plus torso airbags for the front-seat occupants.

“The Camry and Accord with side airbags are the only good performers in this group of midsize cars,” O’Neill says. “The structure of the Camry did a reasonably good job of minimizing intrusion into the occupant compartment, and the curtain airbag prevented the dummies’ heads from being hit by any hard structures, including the intruding barrier. The structure of the Accord didn’t hold up quite as well as the Camry’s, but injury measures were low and the Accord also earns the highest rating of good. Neither of these vehicles was quite good enough to earn a

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