Good Driver-Side Protection May Pose Risk to Passengers, IIHS Says

Several small SUVs performed poorly in passenger-side small overlap tests

Good Driver-Side Protection May Pose Risk to Passengers, IIHS Says
Image: Hyundai
June 23, 2016

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has revealed the results of a study indicating that vehicles with "good" driver-side protection may leave something be desired in regards to the safety of passengers.

The IIHS conducted 40 mph passenger-side small overlap tests on seven small SUVs with "good" driver-side small overlap ratings. Only one of the vehicles, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, performed at a level corresponding to a "good" rating. The other vehicles scored from "poor" to "acceptable."

"This is an important aspect of occupant protection that needs more attention," says Becky Mueller, in a written statement. Mueller is an IIHS senior research engineer and the lead author of the study. "More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014."

The small overlap crash test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. This type of crash poses a challenge to engineers because they bypass a typical vehicle's main front structure.

The recent passenger-side tests reveal a large gap between the danger posed to drivers and the danger posed to passengers. In the tested SUVs, most didn't perform as well when they were crashed into a barrier on the right side instead of the left. That was even true of models that appeared symmetrical after removing bumper covers and other external components.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 and the 2014 Nissan Rogue were the only vehicles to appear asymmetrical. In the passenger-side test, the RAV4 was the worst performer. If the Institute issued ratings for passenger-side protection, the RAV4 would earn a poor rating. The Rogue would earn a marginal.

These two vehicles had the highest amount of passenger-side intrusion. Intrusion measures are important because they indicate how well the structure held up; the greater the amount of intrusion, the higher the likelihood of serious injuries.

In earlier research, Mueller found that the most common change manufacturers make to improve vehicle structure for small overlap protection is to strengthen the occupant compartment. To do this, they might use a different type of material or add a few millimeters of thickness — changes that can't be discerned from a visual examination.