In late December, there was a lot of news about the InsuranceInstitute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) list of the safest motor vehicles for 2015. The list wasimpressive—71 vehicles—even though the Chrysler 200 was the onlyU.S. car on the Top Safety Pick+ list.

|

Focusing on real-world situations, IIHS has been encouragingauto makers to improve results in small overlap front crashes toachieve better safety ratings. A “small overlap front collision” isone in which a vehicle hits a stationary object or another vehicle,but not head on. A vehicle may hit a utility pole, for example,with the headlight taking the brunt of the impact, or two vehiclesmight have a frontal crash but only the left front of each carcollides. The body of the car may crumple, depending on the speedat which the car was traveling and the angle of impact. In thesecases, it's not unusual to find parts of the vehicle pushed intothe passenger compartment.

|

Since the small overlap test program began in 2012, IIHSresearchers identified three main strategies for improving occupantprotection in small overlap front crash tests:

  • Strengthen the occupant compartment
  • Add new structures to engage the barrier
  • Create an additional load path for crash forces

|

Open car door frame

|

Combining modifications

|

The researchers found that the modifications work best whencombined, and they may also require changes to the restraint systembecause of the modifications' effect on the movement of the crashdummies.

|

The most basic change the researchers identified was tostrengthen the occupant compartment. At least one part of the doorframe was reinforced on nearly every vehicle the researchersstudied that rated a Top Safety Pick+. Among the vehicles whosestructures held up best were those that have reinforced side framestied into the main frame rail, providing an additional load path.Without the reinforced frames, crash forces generally go directlyinto the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. The result:major intrusion into the occupant compartment.

|

The IIHS researchers found that the steering column often movesto the right in the small overlap front crash test. When thishappens, the front airbag moves as well, and the crash test dummy'shead slides off the left side of the airbag. Some manufacturersaddressed this issue by changes explicitly meant to limit steeringcolumn motion. For other vehicles, the reduced intrusion of thedoor frame and instrument panel was enough to increase steeringcolumn stability.

|

Restraint system performance wasn't always improved by betterstructural performance alone, however. In some cases, even thoughthe steering column was stabilized and the restraint systemredesigned, the crash test dummy contacted the front airbag on theleft side and slid into a gap in the airbag protection.

|

|

|

Woman and children in back seat of car

|

On the horizon: safety improvements for back-seatoccupants

|

In a related study, IIHS and the Children's Hospital ofPhiladelphia examined the characteristics of back-seat occupantsinjured in crashes to help manufacturers find ways to make rearseats safer. The front seat has gotten most of the attention, theIIHS researchers noted, while vehicle restraint system improvementsfor back-seat passengers haven't kept up.

|

Among all passenger vehicle occupants in crashes during2007–2012, 12% were seated in back. Of that 12%, children youngerthan age 13 accounted for 56%, teenagers from 13 to 19 made up 19%,and adults were 21% of back-seat occupants.

|

Surprisingly, the study found that belted adults age 55 or olderseated in the back had the highest risk of any age group ofsustaining a serious or fatal injury in a crash, and they had ahigher relative risk of death when seated in the back as comparedwith the front. The challenge for auto makers is to improverestraints for adults while not interfering with child restraintsas most car seats for children are designed to be used in the backseat.

|

IIHS recommended as one option that manufacturers developadvanced restraint systems tailored for the back seat, such asinflatable safety belts. IIHS noted that Ford offers optionalinflatable belts in certain rear seats of the Ford Explorer, F-150SuperCrew, Fusion, Flex and Taurus, as well as the Lincoln MKT andMKZ. The Mercedes S-Class also offers inflatable belts, which areintended to reduce chest injuries by distributing crash forces morewidely over the body than with conventional seat belts. Theinflated belt also provides support for the head and neck toprevent excessive motion. The researchers also recommended front,side and knee airbags for the back seat, similar to those alreadyin use in front passenger compartments.

|

|

Child getting into back seat of car

|

NHTSA considering action

|

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) alsois considering changes to the New Car Assessment Program to focuson rear-seat restraint system performance. According to IIHS, NHTSAis looking into creating a crashworthiness rating for rear-seatchild occupant protection and running frontal tests using a crashtest dummy representing a 108-pound, 5-foot tall woman or childseated in the back.

|

Despite all the statistics, the 2015 models are safer than ever.Still, you can lower your risk of injury in any car by wearingseatbelts, using appropriate child restraints and avoidingdistracted driving.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free PropertyCasualty360 Digital Reader

  • All PropertyCasualty360.com news coverage, best practices, and in-depth analysis.
  • Educational webcasts, resources from industry leaders, and informative newsletters.
  • Other award-winning websites including BenefitsPRO.com and ThinkAdvisor.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Rosalie Donlon

Rosalie Donlon is the editor in chief of ALM's insurance and tax publications, including NU Property & Casualty magazine and NU PropertyCasualty360.com. You can contact her at [email protected].