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The New Insurance Institute Crash Tests: Smashing Successes, Crushing Defeats

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

A Crash Course in Standards

The results of the latest rounds of crash testing by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are out – and the results are dramatic. Why should you care? The IIHS is famous for pushing cars far beyond the standards that either the US NHTSA or European NCAP test to, and in 2012 they introduced the most demanding test yet: the small overlap test, pushing a car toward a fixed barrier at roughly 64 km/h with only the leftmost 20% of the vehicle front coming in contact. This kind of crash largely bypasses the safety structures designed into many cars, pushing their structures to the limit. These are also amongst the most dangerous class of accidents, accounting for 25% of fatalities and injuries in the US. Japan’s tests are based on the Euro NCAP standard, at the same speed but with a 40% offset, leading to generally higher performance.

The Good, the Bad and the Crumpled

As can be seen here, the results vary significantly. The top models tested, the 2013 Accord (US market only) and Suzuki Kizashi offered excellent structural integrity and occupant protection, with good control of movement, keeping the passengers protected by the airbags. The two Toyota models tested, the Camry and Prius α (Prius V in the US) showed significant intrusion into the cabin, heavy impacts of the head against the dashboard due to uncontrolled movement and ineffective airbags, and earned a “poor” rating, meaning a significant chance of serious injury or death in such an accident. The other vehicles available in Japan to secure a good rating in the new test are the Subaru Legacy and Legacy Outback 

A previous test of midsize luxury cars had similar results, with the Lexus IS scoring a poor in the new test, despite a good rating in the 40% offset; the Nissan Skyline (Infinity G in the US) and Japan market Honda Accord (Acura TSX in the US) both scored a marginal while the Acura TL (US market only) was one of only two to score a good rating in the class (the other being Volvo’s S60).

Don’t Be a Dummy

What’s most important to take away from this is that we need newer, more stringent tests: This common accident scenario can be fatal in some cars, and leave a driver without a scratch in others. And unlike in the US or Europe, not all cars in Japan are subjected to JNCAP testing – the government leaves it to manufacturers to police themselves.

If history is a guide, two Japanese makes always come up on top for safety: Subaru and Honda. Nissan and Toyota have checkered records, and as stated by the Institute, Toyota has a huge job ahead to overhaul safety in their vehicles. So have a look before you buy – your life may depend on it!

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