Few Cars Ace Insurance Institute’s New Frontal Crash Test

A new frontal crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that few of the premier 2012 midsize models tested preformed well, with only 2 of 11 models earning the Institute’s highest rating.

The “small overlap” test is the latest add-on in an array of safety tests the IIHS conducts on vehicles. It recreates a situation where “25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph.”

“The test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole,” the IIHS said.

Applying the new evaluation to 2012 luxury and near-luxury models, the IIHS gave “good” ratings, the highest score, to the Acura TL and Volvo S60.

An “acceptable” rating, the second-highest score, was given to the Infiniti G.

“Marginal” ratings were given to the BMW 3 series, Lincoln MKZ, Acura TSX and Volkswagen CC.

The lowest rating possible, “poor,” was given to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 250/350, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350.

Aside from private tests by automakers, the IIHS’s small overlap test is the first to be used in the U.S. or Europe, according to the Institute, which added that new models often score well on other frontal tests but more than 10,000 deaths related to frontal crashes still occur annually.

“Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement. “We think this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection.”

Small overlap crash tests assess a car’s safety against damage to areas of the vehicle outside of the safety cages built into its structure. The simulated collision tests the outer edges of a vehicle, where crashes can sometimes send a front wheel or suspension system into a driver’s area and cause leg and foot injuries, according to the IIHS.

“It’s Packaging 101: if you ship a fragile item in a strong box, it’s more likely to arrive at its destination without breaking,” Lund stated. “In crashes, people are less vulnerable to injury if the occupant compartment remains intact.”

Safety, Insurance Implications of Tests

The Institute says it plans to include small-overlap test results in the criteria it uses for issuing Top Safety Pick awards, although it will not be included in the 2013 awards.

Results from a 2009 IIHS study showed that “small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front seat occupants.” So a focus on better performance in these tests could prevent a sizeable number of driver fatalities.

The IIHS said it hopes its newest test will continue to push vehicle safety to new limits, adding that “automakers have been quick to rise to the occasion” whenever new tests are added to the Institute’s set of safety evaluations.

Those automakers have already indicated changes to the safety of vehicle structures and restraints to address small overlap frontal crashes, according to the IIHS.

The Institute will next conduct the test on midsize cars that include Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

The insurance implications of the Institute’s first round of tests are not entirely clear. But if the results are replicated in real life, drivers of cars that perform well in small-overlap crash tests could end up seeing lower insurance premiums on personal injury protection and medical payments coverage when they compare car insurance quotes.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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