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June 18, 2003

USA: Compact SUVs fare poorly in insurance industry side impact tests – report

Only two out of 12 compact sport utility vehicles scored a "good" grade in a new crash test designed to measure injuries resulting from a SUV or pickup truck ramming into the side of the vehicles, Reuters reported. Head-protecting side air bags, which can make the difference between minor injuries and death in a side-impact crash, were the difference between the vehicles that earned "good" ratings and others that scored "poor" in the test, the news agency said.

By bcusack

Only two out of 12 compact sport utility vehicles scored a “good” grade in a new crash test designed to measure injuries resulting from a SUV or pickup truck ramming into the side of the vehicles, Reuters reported.

Head-protecting side air bags, which can make the difference between minor injuries and death in a side-impact crash, were the difference between the vehicles that earned “good” ratings and others that scored “poor” in the test, the news agency said.

According to Reuters, the side air bag-equipped Subaru Forester and Ford Escape scored “good” ratings in the crash test, which was developed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS crashed a 3,300-pound (1,500 kg) weight — shaped to simulate the front-end of a typical SUV or pickup truck — into the side of the vehicles at about 30 mph (50 km/h), Reuters said.

The news agency said a second Ford Escape and six other compact SUVs without side air bags scored “poor” ratings. The heads of some of the test dummies smashed through the side window and struck the top of the simulated crash vehicle.

“It certainly demonstrates clearly the benefits you can get protecting both the torso and the head with side air bags,” Brian O’Neill, president of the IIHS, a vehicle safety organisation funded by large insurers, told Reuters in an interview.

According to the news agency, the IIHS also gave a “good” rating to Mazda’s Tribute SUV, even though it didn’t test the vehicle, since it is a mechanical twin of the Ford Escape.

Reuters said the Mitsubishi Outlander (Airtrek) scored the worst in the test as the crash barrier intruded into the passenger compartment, striking the driver dummy’s head, and the injury measurements recorded on the head as well as on the torso and pelvis were very high.

Comparing the Forester to the Outlander, O’Neill told Reuters; “In one case, serious injury would be unlikely; in the other case, fatal injuries are a distinct possibility.”

The Toyota RAV4, Honda Element, Saturn Vue, Land Rover Freelander and Suzuki Grand Vitara also scored “poor” ratings in the crash test, Reuters said. The IIHS noted that the Suzuki Vitara and the Chevrolet Tracker are nearly the same as the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and assigned the same rating to all vehicles, the news agency added.

A Hyundai Santa Fe equipped with side air bags scored an “acceptable” rating in the test, while a Honda CR-V without side air bags scored a “marginal” rating, Reuters said.

The news agency noted that the IIHS first began conducting crash tests eight years ago and its frontal crash test is more severe than the test conducted by US safety regulators.

Over that time, the automotive industry has adapted its vehicles to the point where almost all cars and trucks now score “good” or “acceptable” ratings, the report added.

With the growing number of SUVs and pickup trucks on US roads, the IIHS decided several years ago to develop a new side-impact test that would show the dangers of larger vehicles on the roads, Reuters said.

Several of the compact SUVs offered side air bags as optional equipment. But only the Ford Escape was tested twice because Ford agreed to pay to have a second vehicle tested and the other automakers did not, O’Neill told Reuters.

O’Neill expects that the tests will lead the automakers to make changes, Reuters said, adding that the IIHS will test mid-size cars this fall.

“I expect in many cases we’ll see some changes very quickly,” O’Neill told Reuters. “I expect we’ll see the introduction of side-impact air bags accelerate, and we’ll also see improvements in side structures.”

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