The BMW X5, the world’s first light truck equipped with a head protection system, demonstrated the importance of such systems in a recent side-impact crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The test involved ramming an X5 sideways at 18 mph into a stationary pole. While the impact speed of this test might seem low, according to Brian O’Neill, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “impacts into rigid objects such as poles or trees at 18 mph are, in fact, very severe.” After the test O’Neill observed, “these tests demonstrate that people can survive serious side impact crashes in the real world because head airbags prevent their heads from striking rigid objects. Side airbags with head protection represent a very important safety development that will save lives and prevent major head trauma in a range of serious side impact crashes.”

Nearly 10,000 deaths occur each year in side impact crashes, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the US Department of Transportation, and more than half of these deaths involve head injuries.

Thirty eight percent of single-vehicle side impact crash deaths occur when vehicles strike trees or poles on the dead occupants’ side. In two-vehicle side impact crashes, 38 percent of car occupant deaths occur when a pickup or SUV strikes the car.

The benefit of BMW’s Hps was first demonstrated by the IIHS in 1998 in a side impact test of an HPS-equipped BMW 5 Series. After that test the International Brain Injury Association awarded BMW its “Safe Car of the Millennium” in recognition of the BMW Head Protection System.