Most luxury cars fail new frontal crash test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently introduced a new crash test which revealed disturbing safety deficiencies in many luxury cars. Most luxury-model cars tested failed the new crash test despite high overall safety ratings. Of 11 midsize luxury cars tested only two vehicles, the Acura TL and the Volvo S60, earned good ratings, while the Infiniti G was rated as acceptable

The new test mimics crashes in which the front driver-side corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. A 2009 institute study found these “small overlap frontal” collisions accounted for nearly 25 percent of frontal crashes that result in serious or fatal injury to occupants in the front seat. Another 24 percent of frontal crashes were “moderate overlap crashes, although they likely occurred at much higher speeds than the Institute’s moderate overlap test,” according to the report.

All of the models passed the institute’s standard moderate overlap frontal test in which the impact is spread out over a larger area of the vehicle’s front end.

“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,” said Adrian Lund, president of the insurance-industry funded institute.

“Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities. This new test program is based on years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes and then replicating them in our crash test facility to determine how people are being seriously injured and how cars can be designed to protect them better. We think this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection.”

The institute says the new test will be added to criteria for selecting its “Top Safety Pick” award. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also is considering a small overlap frontal crash test.

The report explains why the impact from a small overlap crash can pose a threat:

Most modern cars have safety cages built to withstand head-on collisions and moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation. At the same time, crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant compartment. The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50 percent of the front end. When a crash involves these structures, the occupant compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can effectively restrain and protect occupants.

Small overlap crashes are a different story. These crashes primarily affect a car’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures. Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion in the occupant compartment and resulting in serious leg and foot injuries. To provide effective protection in small overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that aren’t tempered by crush-zone structures. Widening these front-end structures also would help.

The institute next plans to test midsize, moderately priced cars, including such models as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

For a link to the institute’s full report and a video of the crash tests being performed see

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