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Safety group wants stronger focus on "small-overlap" crashes

Noting that most car manufacturers design their vehicles "to ace" the safety tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the president of the latter organization says that new model offerings were recently subjected to a more stringent front-end car crash scenario.

The results of that were nowhere near as impressive as those achieved in long-term standardized crash simulations.

Adrian Lund, IIHS president, says that there is an anomaly related to the fact that most new cars do very well in traditional front-end crash tests, namely this: Despite the positive outcomes, more than 10,000 fatalities occur each year across the United States in car accidents involving frontal collisions.

The reason centers on what Lund calls the especially adverse effects of many "small-overlap" crashes. Those occur when only a portion of a car's front end on the driver's side slams into another vehicle or immobile object.

Until IIHS recently completed a new test design and process to evaluate car safety in such crashes, there was no measuring stick. The NHSTA has always employed a test that measures the force taken across a vehicle's full width, and car manufacturers have long designed their offerings to score high marks in that test.

The inverse was noted in the first IIHS small-overlap simulation, in which the institute tested a number of mid-sized luxury car models.

From Mercedes-Benz and Toyota to Honda and Volkswagen, they almost all failed, with a majority receiving "marginal" and "poor" marks.

Lund wants to see car makers develop new safety designs to better protect against small-overlap crashes, while focusing less on trying to achieve high ratings in full-width frontal tests.

"We hope our new rating program will change that," he says.

Source: Bloomberg, "Mercedes, Lexus, Audi sedans earn poor crash-test ratings," Angela Greiling Keane, Aug. 14, 2012

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