Located off of a country road just outside of Charlottesville,Virginia, is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to reducinglosses from crashes on the nation’s roadways known as the Insurance Institute forHighway Safety (IIHS).

|

The IIHS conducts scientific studies on everything fromheadlights and auto crash safety to the impact of alcohol and drugson drivers. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) complementsthis mission by collecting information from the insurance marketand analyzing the data to determine loss patterns by vehicle makeand model.

|

Behind-the-scenes look at IIHS safety research


The members of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies(NAMIC) had the opportunity to drive some of the cars beinganalyzed at the facility, learn about the testing conducted byIIHS, and observe a crash test as part of a tour for theorganization’s Future of Auto Summit in July.

|

IIHS was founded in 1959 and began testing the crashworthinessof vehicles in 1995. Upon entering the testing center, severalvehicles in the lobby show the very real results of the their crashtests. IIHS buys each of the cars tested because they want toensure they are using the exact same vehicles available to thepublic.

|

Related: Are we safe drivers? Apparentlynot…

|

A walk through the facility highlights just how important thisresearch is for manufacturers and their customers. The testingconducted by IIHS has encouraged auto manufacturers to makesignificant changes in the design of their vehicles and enhance ordevelop new safety features.

|

Here is an overview of some of the testing that takes place atIIHS:

|

side by side comparison of under ride crash test

|

The vehicle on the left shows the difference in the impactusing new technology to protect cars that crash into a tractortrailer. (Photo: P.Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Side underride testing


Over 400 people are killed each year when vehicles crash into therear or side of a large truck or trailer, and the majority of thetime it is the auto driver and not the truck driver who is atfault. To test the impact of underside protection guards on tractortrailers, IIHS crashed a pair of Chevrolet Malibus into a tractortrailer.

|

In the first test, the tractor was outfitted with an AngelWing, an underride protection device thatprevents a vehicle from going under the trailer in a crash. Whilethe AngelWing did bend in the crash, it prevented the vehicle fromsliding under the trailer.

|

Since the car’s airbags and seatbelts were able to restrain andprotect the test dummy, the test demonstrated that a real-worldoccurrence of a similar accident would reduce the likelihood ofserious injuries for the Malibu’s driver. Manufacturers continue toimprove trailer safety to lessen the impact in a crash.

|

Related: The 10 safest-driving cities, according to 2017Allstate report

|

Mercedes Benz and Smart Car crash test

|

Running into a midsize car is very different from runninginto a stationary wall. (Photo: P.Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Vehicle size and weight


When it comes to car crashes, size does matter. One of the testsIIHS conducted was to determine what happened when a midsize 2009Mercedes Benz C300 crashed into a tiny 2009 Smart Fortwo. IIHSfound that tiny cars did not do well in a crash with a mid-size carbecause the larger car will force the smaller vehicle backwards,causing more damage to the occupants.

|

And given the laws of physics, larger, heavier vehicles aresafer in a crash than smaller, lighter cars. However, the newerhybrids have been found to be safer in a crash because the batteryadds about 10% to the total weight of the car.

|

Crash test for a Toyota Sienna and a Pontiac Trans Sport

|

In the moderate overlap test, approximately 40% of the widthof the car strikes a barrier at 40 mph on the driver's side.(Photo: P. Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Front crash tests


The 1997 Pontiac Trans Sport (top) was found to be one of theworst-performing cars ever tested in the IIHS frontal crash testprogram. The manufacturer used the test information to makeimprovements for its Chevrolet Uplander minivan, which earned a“good” rating in the frontal offset test. The 1998 ToyotaSienna (bottom) earned a rating of “good” in the same test.

|

IIHS doesn’t test every vehicle made, but tends to select thosewith the greatest marketshare in the midsize and SUV markets. Theyusually do not test vehicles over 5,000 pounds or expensive nichevehicles, however, manufacturers can nominate a vehicle to betested. If the vehicle is selected, IIHS will buy the vehicle andtest it, and the manufacturer may reimburse IIHS for vehicles itdidn’t plan to test.

|

Related: More speed cameras needed to cut road deaths, U.S.watchdog says

|

rollover crash testing

|

According to the National Highway Transportation SafetyAdministration, 95% of single car rollovers begin when a car istipped and its tires leave the road. (Photo: P.Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Testing roof strength


When IIHS began testing roof strength in 2012, 7,559 people werekilled and 25,277 were injured in rollovers. The governmentstandard at the time was that a roof had to be able to withstandone-and-half times a car’s weight before crushing in fiveinches.

|

Now that standard has changed to being able to support fourtimes a vehicle’s weight before being rated as “good.” TheInstitute’s research has shown that improvements in rollover safetyhave reduced injury and fatality rates by more than 30% in rollovercrashes.

|

crash dummies

|

IIHS has dummies of various sizes that record movementsduring a crash. (Photo: P. Harman,propertycasualty360.com)

|

These dummies are really smart


In a crash scenario, dummies simulate the human response — howthe body reacts, moves and the resulting injuries. IIHS has 10-12dummies that they use on a regular basis. Each one can cost as muchas $200,000 since they have sensors to measure what actuallyhappens during the crash. The information is captured by computers,and the dummies need to be recalibrated every 75 crashes to ensurethe information they are recording is correct.

|

Related: Here's how self-driving cars are already impactingcities and towns

|

|

testing semi-autonomous cars

|

(Photo: P. Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Crash avoidance technologies


Checking out some of the new auto technology also falls under thepurview of IIHS. Under their new, dome-covered test track,engineers test how well vehicles’ crash avoidance technologiesoperate. The four major areas investigated are:

|

Car-to-car autonomous braking

//

|

|

Rear autonomous emergency braking

//

|

|

Self-parking

//

|

|

Pedestrian autonomous emergency braking

//

|

NAMIC members were allowed to test some of these technologies,which work fairly well, although the back-up parking assist hadsome difficulty backing into a parking space and one of the autosfailed to stop in the car-to-car autonomous braking test.Fortunately, no drivers, passengers or autos were hurt.

|

The warnings only detect if a crash is about to happen,literally slamming the brakes on to prevent a crash if the driverfails to take any action. During the tests, the cars were onlytraveling at 11 mph.

|

Other technologies being tested include lane departure warnings,which have been found to trigger false positives, and adaptiveheadlights which swivel based on steering input and follow the roadas a vehicle turns.

|

Tesla Model C

|

The Tesla Model S and drive forwards and backwards remotelywithout a driver for short distances. (Photo: P.Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Semi-autonomous vehicles


IIHS is also testing a Tesla Model S to see how well it performs on anumber of road conditions. The car is capable of runningautonomously, but the driver must still be behind the wheel andpaying attention to where the car is going and any surroundingvehicles.

|

When in car following mode, a Tesla will follow the car in frontof it, even if the other vehicle drives off of the road. Inautopilot, the Tesla can lose the lane lines and may move to theside of the road or guard rail if the driver isn’t payingattention. Many drivers believe that they don’t have to payattention when behind the wheel of an autonomous car, but that ismisleading. Even autonomous vehicles require input from humandrivers when on the road.

|

Related: Autonomous vehicle technology could shrink autoinsurance sector by 71%

|

//

|

|

IIHS side impact crash test

|

This 2017 Honda accord was used to test the impact on thepassenger side of the vehicle. (Photo: P.Harman/propertycasualty360.com)

|

Crash test


IIHS also conducts actual crash tests to determine the results of avariety of impacts. The tests are conducted on an indoor track andthe results allow manufacturers to see how well their cars performduring a specific type of crash — e.g., passenger side,driver’s side, rear or front collision. Manufacturers whose carshave higher safety ratings often see a boost in sales after winninga safety award from IIHS. Those whose cars don’t perform as welltake the information to incorporate changes to make their vehiclessafer.

|

//

|

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.

Patricia L. Harman

Patricia L. Harman is the editor-in-chief of Claims magazine, a contributing editor to PropertyCasualty360.com, and chairs the annual America's Claims Event (ACE), which focuses on providing claims professionals with cutting-edge education and networking opportunities. She covers auto, property & casualty, workers' compensation, fraud, risk and cybersecurity, and is a frequent speaker at insurance industry events. Contact her at [email protected]