IIHS Test: Acura TL, Volvo S60 Are The Leaderboard\'s Highest Ranking Names
|   Friday, August 17, 2012
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluations for front-end protection had been based on 40 mph impacts into rigid barriers that had been offset from the center by 40 percent, since 1995. New vehicles have continued to improve their performance in these tests, as automakers have continued to improve safety cages and develop crush zone technologies to keep crash forces away from vehicle occupants in the past 20 years or so.

The president of the IIHS, Adrain Lund, explained: "It's Packaging 101.
If you ship a fragile item in a strong box, it's more likely to arrive at its destination without breaking. In crashes, people are less vulnerable to injury if the occupant compartment remains intact."

The bulk of automaker efforts have been focused on protecting the center area of the vehicles, which can still leave them vulnerable to impacts at their edges- such as when clipping a telephone pole or tree. For example, with front wheels often getting driven into the passenger compartment, these seemingly small incidents can have a big effect on passenger safety, where they can cause significant lower body injuries, or worse.

Adrain Lund added "Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year. Small-overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities."

The IIHS evaluation procedures have the test vehicles strike the same kind of barriers, at the same speed, but with just outside 25 percent of a vehicle, on the driver's side, bearing the impact. Properly performing restraints, including airbags and safety belts, are key elements in these scenarios.
In that case the challenge is that drivers in these "small overlap" impacts also need protection from side and curtain airbags, due to the post impact forces, and those units are not always triggered in front end collisions.

In righting this, it is clearly going to take some effort on part of automakers to catch up to the new IIHS criteria, so the Institute won't require Top Safety Picks to excel in the new testing until 2014 model year. The IIHS will continue putting vehicles through these more rigorous evaluations until then, and publicizing the results. Adrain Lund again: "We won't have evaluated many vehicles in the small overlap test in time for the 2013 award. Models meeting the current award criteria still offer outstanding protection in most crashes, and they will continue to earn Top Safety Pick in 2013. However, those vehicles that also do well in the new test will get to claim a higher award level that will be announced later this year."

The future Top Safety Picks will need to get the best possible score of "good" in the small offset test, as well as the current tests, which include evaluations for moderate offset, rear impact, side impact and rollover protection.

In a new IIHS test of 11 near premium or premium sedans from the 2012 model year, the only ones to receive "good" grades are the Acura TL and Volvo S60. Of the others, the Infiniti G was rated as "acceptable". The Acura TSX, BMW3 Series, Lincoln MKZ, and Volkswagen CC received "marginal" scores while the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 250/350, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 were branded with "poor" marks.
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