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New IIHS crash test could make life harder for automakers

Roadshow logo Roadshow 10/23/2017 Andrew Krok

Want to give your mid-size sedan some billionaire doors? Just slam it into a dense object at speed! (Don't actually do this.)© IIHS Want to give your mid-size sedan some billionaire doors? Just slam it into a dense object at speed! (Don't actually do this.) When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety created its small-overlap front crash test, it only tested the driver's side of the car, but that's now changed.

The IIHS has introduced a passenger-side version of the small-overlap front crash test, in order to ensure that front passengers receive the same level of safety as drivers. The IIHS initially only tested the driver's side because every car has a driver, but may not have a passenger. Plus, the IIHS doesn't have an infinite budget and must limit itself to only the most pertinent tests.

Research

The test, which was created in 2012, involves driving a vehicle into a barrier at 40 mph, contacting only 25 percent of the vehicle's front end. It's meant to mimic contact with poles and other roadside obstacles. After the test first debuted, most cars fared poorly, but in order to remain in the organization's good graces, most every car has been strengthened to pass the test with flying colors.

But the IIHS wanted to make sure that these changes applied to both folks up front, and not just the driver, hence this new test. The organization ran some initial tests in 2016 with small SUVs with only limited success. However, the IIHS ran the tests again with midsize sedans, and nearly all of them achieved a score of Good.

Of the 13 cars tested, only three scored less than Good for an overall rating -- the Volkswagen Jetta (Acceptable), the Volkswagen Passat (Marginal) and the Chevrolet Malibu (Marginal). Passenger-side dummies in both the Passat and Malibu had their heads slide off the airbag and contact the dashboard. Even some cars with Good overall ratings didn't fare too well. The Mazda6, for example, had 9 inches of structure intrusion at the lower door hinge, nearly twice what the driver's side had.

That's mostly good news for buyers, knowing that automakers didn't cheap out and only apply changes to half the car's front end. An IIHS safety engineer said in a statement that the majority of the work required for a Good rating will involve tweaking airbags and seat belts to ensure dummies contact the right things (i.e., not the dashboard).

As with the Institute's other tests, cars vying for the 2018 Top Safety Pick+ accolade will need a score of Good or Acceptable on the new passenger-side test, in addition to high scores on every other crash and crash-prevention evaluation. The IIHS will also accept automaker test data, provided the OEMs follow IIHS protocol and submit both video footage and crash data.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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