New crash test could save 10,000 motorists
By CHERYL JENSEN For Sun-Times Media December 6, 2012 12:59PM
2012 Volvo S60
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has added a new frontal crash test to its list. It’s the new, more severe “small overlap” test, designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.
This test is unlike any the institute — or the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — has used before, although NHTSA has been studying such a test.
While most automakers have been routinely getting the insurance institute’s highest rating of good on current tests, it did not happen this time when the agency, financed by the insurance industry, conducted the new test on 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury vehicles. Luxury cars were chosen for the small overlap test because they are generally the first available with all the advanced safety technologies.
Only two of the 11 (all 2012 models) received the coveted good rating: the Acura TL and Volvo S60.
One, the Infiniti G, was rated acceptable. Four were rated marginal; they were the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC. Four models receiving the lowest rating of poor were the Audi A4, Lexus ES 350, Lexus IS 250/350 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Interestingly, all of these vehicles had received a good rating in the frontal offset crash test, which the institute has been conducting since 1995. That test involves 40 percent of a vehicle’s total width striking a barrier on the driver’s side at 40 mph. It will now be called a “moderate overlap” frontal test.
The small overlap frontal test involves 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end striking a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier on the driver’s side at 40 mph.
The test is trying to determine why 10,000 people still die each year in frontal crashes, despite seat belts, airbags and vehicles that get top ratings in current frontal crash tests.
A 2009 institute study of newer vehicles that got good frontal crash test ratings found that these small overlap type crashes accounted for approximately 20 to 25 percent of these fatalities.
In the new test, the edge of a vehicle hits a barrier at the inside corner of the headlights. It misses the main crush zone structures that help manage crash energy and reduce the forces on the occupant compartment. These structures are located in the middle 50 percent of the car, which is where the current frontal crash test hits.
In this new test, the crash forces are concentrated on the front wheel, suspension and firewall, the partition between the engine and passenger compartment.
This means that the wheel can be forced back into the foot well, causing more intrusion into the interior and resulting in serious leg and foot injuries.
Also, when the vehicle hits the barrier it rotates, moving sideways and away from it. The dummy heads toward the A pillar, the pillar that supports the windshield, and the A pillar heads toward the dummy.
In some cases the airbag doesn’t protect the dummy because the steering wheel, which houses the driver airbag, moves so far to the right the airbag misses the dummy. Even if a side curtain airbag is set to deploy in a frontal crash, it may not extend far enough forward to provide head protection. In this case, the head of the test dummy falls in between the two airbags, which happened with the Lincoln MKZ.
In the past, the power of bad publicity from doing poorly in insurance institute tests has prompted automakers to make the changes necessary to get a good rating. The good news is the same thing is likely to occur with this new round of crash test studies.
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