Crash Tests Highlight Need for Improved Side-Impact Safety Standards, Heavier Vehicles Must Also Be Redesigned to Reduce Harm in Crashes

March 7, 2005

Crash Tests Highlight Need for Improved Side-Impact Safety Standards, Heavier Vehicles Must Also Be Redesigned to Reduce Harm in Crashes

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) today released another set of frighteningly poor crash safety ratings for small cars in side-impact crashes with SUV-type vehicles. The results should spur more timely action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on its signature initiative to improve the side-impact safety standards and set better safety baselines for side-impact protection. 

The new standard should have the effect of requiring a side-impact air bag in all vehicles. Previous IIHS tests have found that not all vehicle structures or side-impact air bags are created equal. We urge the agency to move forward to protect Americans in side-impact crashes as soon as it can, as good safety design can save lives.

It would also save consumers money. NHTSA’s cost analysis for its side-impact air bags shows that standardizing these expensive optional features would save consumers millions of dollars. While side-impact air bags can cost from $300 to $600 as optional equipment, NHTSA estimated that making head side-impact air bags standard on every car would cost as low as $121 per vehicle and save thousands of lives. 

The tests results released today also have a crucial flaw. IIHS, which is working with the industry in a voluntary working group on vehicle compatibility, or mismatch, should also be asking questions about the extremely aggressive designs of large SUVs and pickup trucks. Its tests instead treat the mass and shape of these vehicles as a “given” by making them the barrier, and smaller cars the victim. 

That is a false premise. Modifications to bumper height, vehicle mass and stiffness must be made in the overly heavy and large vehicles in the fleet. Both the administration and IIHS have been slow to examine innovative approaches, such as Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE), which places crush zones and energy absorption structures inside a vehicle’s front end. Heavier vehicles should be better citizens of the highway – designed to better absorb crash energy and made more responsible for their devastating impact on others.

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To read Public Citizen’s comments on NHTSA’s proposed side-impact standards, click here.  

To read comments on the agency’s proposed changes to the frontal New Car Assessment Program tests, which include a discussion of compatibility needs and technologies, click here.