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IIHS Study: Side Crash Ratings Matter

Posted in auto industry, Crash Testing, General, Safety by Kurt Ernst | January 19th, 2011 | 6 Responses |

The human body is both remarkably durable and remarkably fragile. It’s designed to take quite a bit of abuse, but only in certain directions: belted into a seat, in a modern car equipped with airbags, many frontal and rear impact crashes are survivable. The body can absorb a substantial dorsal or ventral impact, especially if the force is spread over a wide area (as is the case with seat belts and air bags). Cars have energy absorbing crumple zones up front and to the rear, which adds to crash survivability. Side impacts, on the other hand, have the potential of being much more dangerous for many reasons.

The human body is not designed to take a serious and sudden lateral impact. The heart, for example, can move much farther left or right in the chest cavity than it can front to back. Tear the aorta, and no amount of medical attention on the scene is going to do you much good. Cars, just like people, don’t offer much side impact protection when compared to front and rear impacts. Sure, side door beams, high strength steel and side curtain airbags have made cars safer, but cars still lack significant structure and intrusion protection on their sides. A recent IIHS study took a look at cars equipped with side curtain airbags, but scored differently for side impact protection. The results are dramatic.

Drive a car rated as “Good” for side impact protection by the IIHS, and your chance of dying in a side impact crash decreases by 70% compared to a car rated as “Poor” for side impact protection. Even a car listed as “Acceptable”, the institute’s second highest rating, is 64% less likely to produce fatal injuries, while a car rated as “Marginal” is 49% less likely to cause a side-impact fatality than one rated as “Poor”. Since all cars tested were equipped with side curtain airbags, the real difference is in structural integrity and intrusion protection. The stronger the side of the car, the safer it will be in a side impact crash.

The IIHS study is meant to drive improvements in side impact protection among automakers. Conventional methods, such as adding more high-strength steel or using additional side door beams, add weight (which is one reason why today’s cars are less fuel efficient than those of 30 years ago). Automakers must balance the need for safer cars against the need to produce light, more fuel efficient ones. Short of building cars from exotic materials (aluminum and carbon fiber, for example), there is no easy or inexpensive way to meet both demands.

Source: NY Times Wheels

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6 Responses

  1. This post hits home because there was a fatal accident in front of my office last Friday which was a side impact. Usually I figure fatal accidents happen at fast speeds on the freeway, I never thought it could happen outside my office. The woman was making a left turn and apparently someone ran a red light and her car split in two and ended up on the sidewalk. We had a full view of everything since we are on the third floor and I get scared driving to work every day now because I have to pass that same intersection. Very sad.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    If you get scared behind the wheel, the best thing is to sign up for a performance driving school. Few things will increase your confidence (and proficiency) as much as time on a track with a qualified instructor.

    Otherwise, make sure you’re always buckled up and don’t allow yourself to drive distracted. That means no texting, no talking on the cell phone, no eating, etc. Just as with self-defense, situational awareness has a lot to do with staying safe behind the wheel.

    • Allen Gmc says:

      I actually was never scared before until that accident. I only got scared because the accident was right in front of the office and I make that same left turn twice a day. I didn’t think anyone could die there because it’s just a left turn. It never struck me as something dangerous.

      It did made me more aware about texting and being distracted and I’m a lot careful now. However, no matter how aware you are, another driver can still hit your car if they run a red light or if you get hit by a drunk driver. Sometimes it’s just fate and beyond your control. That’s where safety matters and side impact crash test matters.

      The ripped aorta thing in the article is true. I spent the whole weekend reading about car accidents and I read that Princess Diana died from a small rupture in her aorta that wasn’t taken care of fast enough and she died in a S-class too. Apparently it’s a very common thing in fatal accidents; the deceleration can cause aorta’s to just break. Scary.

  3. Kurt Ernst says:

    There’s more than you realize that’s within your control – that’s what “situational awareness” is all about. Case in point – two years ago I was coming home from work. I was lead car at a traffic light, waiting to turn left. The light changed, but I noticed a driver who was hesitant to pull into traffic; sure enough, a woman driving a mininvan blew the light at about forty MPH, cell phone glued to her ear. Had I pulled into the intersection, I’d be dead now.

    Being safe behind the wheel takes a lot more focus and concentration than most people realize. Think of it this way: you have $1 to spend on multitasking. Driving takes 50 cents, which leaves you with 50 cents remaining. Talking on the cell phone takes 35 cents, so if nothing goes wrong, you’re fine. Now the driver three cars in front of you stops short because a squirrel ran in front of his car. Stopping in time will take 50 cents, but you’ve only got 15 cents left. The net result is an accident.

  4. eddie_357 says:

    this is slightly off topic,but if you pull into a intersection and turn your wheels to the left, someone hits you from the rear it would push you out into on-coming traffic,after i read that i was all too aware of the dangers.situational awareness went up a notch.about the airbags they need to add a beam along the side of all newer vehcles.i was run off the road one night and carved out the side of a tocoma twin cab (allmost like the vehicle in the picture)i wasnt going all that fast(I was driving a crown vic)but whole side of the other vehicle caved in.if someone was in there they would of been crushed.did hardly nothing to the vic.so the need to reinforce the side is also just as important.

  5. Kurt Ernst says:

    Eddie, excellent point about keeping your wheels straight when turning left. It’s things like this that most drivers don’t even think about, but it could be the difference between life and death if you get rear-ended.