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The Safer Horizon: Evaluating Safety at 2015 SUOTY - The Lohdown

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/15/2014 Edward Loh

Safety acronyms such as NHTSA, NCAP, IIHS, TSP, TSP+, FCW, LKA, LDW, and ACC dominated much of the discussion around the conference table at this year's Sport Utility of the Year (SUOTY) competition. And for good reason: one of the six criteria for all of our Of The Year awards is safety.

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Safety has always been a difficult criterion to evaluate. Miles driven per gallon of fuel and 0-to-60 times are relatively easy figures to obtain and compare, but there are no simple numbers that express vehicle safety. We don't crash-test vehicles for obvious reasons, and must rely on government and private organizations for safety data.

The advent of a five-star ratings system for crash safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Top Safety Pick (TSP) and Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) awards by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have facilitated a deeper, more comprehensive discussion of vehicle safety.

NHTSA has been crash testing new vehicles as part of its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) since 1978. In 1994, it started issuing star ratings, with one star signaling the lowest performance and five stars the highest. In 1997, NHTSA added side crash ratings, and in 2001, began assessing rollover resistance. While not part of its star-rating system, NHTSA also promotes vehicles that have met its standards for performance for electronic stability control (ESC), lane departure warning (LDW) and forward collision warning (FCW).

Read about the 2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year RIGHT HERE.

2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Group© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Group The IIHS created the TSP award in 2006 as a way to call attention to vehicles that had done particularly well in its standard battery of crash testing. In 2013, it created the Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) award to highlight vehicles that received good or acceptable ratings on the game-changing small overlap crash test it introduced in 2012 to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits another vehicle, a tree, or a pole.

For 2014, the IIHS folded small overlap crash test results into the basic TSP award and made TSP+ contingent on the availability and performance of front-crash prevention systems, with trade names such as Intelligent Brake Assist, Pre-Safe, Pre-Sense, Pre-Collision, and Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation. These high-tech collision avoidance and mitigation systems employ radar and/or cameras to scan the road ahead and warn inattentive drivers of a possible collision, and some can engage the brakes if a collision is deemed imminent.

We can't test the ultimate effectiveness of collision avoidance and mitigation systems without risking harm to editors and vehicles, but we can get a taste of their sensitivity and smoothness via systems that incorporate and extend the capabilities of forward-crash prevention technology. Three of the most common systems include LDW, which alerts the driver when the vehicle drifts out of lane; lane keep assist (LKA), which guides said drifting vehicle back into its lane; and adaptive cruise control (ACC), which adapts the speed of the cruise control system to the pace of the vehicle ahead. As manufacturers strive to achieve the highest safety ratings and awards, these systems have become increasingly prevalent in the vehicles we evaluate. Hence the discussion over walkie-talkie and the conference table about which vehicles had which systems and how they performed.

© Provided by MotorTrend Such discussions are a sign of the times in the auto industry (expect more in our COTY and TOTY deliberations), but hopefully just a temporary waypoint in the evolution of our OTY awards. Why? Because forward-crash prevention systems and their extensions simply make too much sense.

At future Of The Years, I hope we're not still talking about which vehicles have FCW, ACC, LDW, or LKA, or which manufacturer's system is the best. I hope we're taking the existence and efficacy of these systems for granted, as we do three-point seat belts, airbags, ABS, and electronic stability control, and are instead discussing the latest and greatest safety innovations sure to spread across the industry.

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