IIHS: Small overlap crashes may leave front passengers at risk

IIHS: Small overlap crashes may leave front passengers at risk image

Text: Anton Andres / Photos: IIHS | posted July 18, 2016 13:36

IIHS spot check reveals differences in crash protection

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently spot-checked a group of crossovers for impact protection. In their most recent testing, the Institute discovered that cars that fared well in the small and moderate overlap tests do not necessarily perform as well when tested on the passenger side.

In offset crash tests made by NCAP, IIHS and NHTSA, the driver's area takes the brunt of the impact, slamming into a deformable wall (moderate overlap) or rigid barrier (small overlap) at 64 km/h. For this test, the IIHS tested the US spec models of the Buick Encore, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rouge (X-Trail), Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 (pre-facelift model). All cars tested received a Good rating in the small overlap and moderate overlap crash tests when these were tested from the driver's side. IIHS's spot check was the first time these cars will be tested from the passenger side.

lack of structural reinforcement on the passenger side

"This is an important aspect of occupant protection that needs more attention. More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014." said Becky Mueller, an IIHS senior research engineer and the lead author of the study. Mueller also noted that structural reinforcements made to improve crash protection were applied for the driver's side only. The fatality rates prompted the Institute to try out this new style of crash tests. David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer added, "It's not surprising that automakers would focus their initial efforts to improve small overlap protection on the side of the vehicle that we conduct the tests on. In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles. As time goes by, though, we would hope they ensure similar levels of protection on both sides."

Difference between driver and passenger side crash tests

After the tests were conducted, researchers noted that most of the cars had more occupant intrusion when the crossovers were crashed from the other side. Moderate overlap testing, conducted with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, showed Good ratings for both driver and front passenger. However, it was a different story when it came to the small overlap tests. In the small overlap, the Toyota RAV4 displayed the biggest difference between driver and passenger crash protection. The RAV4 received a Good rating in its driver's side small overlap test but got Poor in the passenger side test. Results showed that there was more cabin intrusion and structural deformation, increasing risk of injury. 

Hyundai Tucson gets Good for both driver and front passenger protection

As for the other crossovers, the Subaru Forester scored Marginal, as well as the Nissan Rouge. The Honda CR-V, Buick Encore and Mazda CX-5 were all rated Acceptable. Only one crossover tested offered the same amount of occupant protection for both driver and front passenger: The Hyundai Tucson.

From this study, the IIHS is now considering to add this new test as part of their regular tests. According to them, it may be implemented by next year and will be a factor when the IIHS will be choosing their Top Safety Pick vehicles.