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Tougher IIHS Crash Testing Pushing Small Cars Off the Road

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Small Cars Fare Poorly in Small-Offset Frontal Crash Tests
Small Cars Fare Poorly in Small-Offset Frontal Crash Tests

With the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) quantifying the relative safety of vehicles in various types of accidents, it seems that small cars are no longer up to par.

Its seems logical to assume that, the bigger the car, the safer you’ll be in case of an accident. On the other hand, small cars are more fuel-efficient, which speaks for why people are choosing small cars over big cars, since we figure that we’ll spend more time commuting than getting into accidents. Vehicle construction and additional safety systems play a big part in how well any vehicle performs in the IIHS crash test, but the general rule still applies.

IIHS crash testing has evolved over the years, including the addition of sophisticated crash test dummies that can record the stresses generated in a crash, and different crash types. People are made in different sizes, so why shouldn’t crash test dummies be made in different sizes? Also, not everyone is involved in the same head-on crash, so why would the IIHS only test that type of crash?

The offset frontal crash test, which has been traditionally tested with 50% offset, has been a mainstay for years, making or breaking (literally) the crash test ratings of many vehicles. A second test has been added to the regimen, the small-offset frontal crash test, which has knocked out a number of small cars, such as the Toyota Prius, which lost one star off it’s NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Five-Star Safety Rating. The vehicle hasn’t changed.

Small cars fared very badly in the new IIHS small-offset frontal crash test, just 25% offset, and include pretty much all vehicles in the micro-car segment, not just the 2013 Fiat 500 in the above video. No cars even rated as “Good,” and only the Chevy Spark rated “Acceptable.” Ranking in at “Marginal” were the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Kia Rio, and the Toyota Yaris. At the bottom of the list, rating “Poor,” were the Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius c, Hyundai Accent, and the Mitsubishi Mirage.

These small cars haven’t suddenly become less-safe, but automakers have a lot to work on to make them stand up to more rigorous IIHS and NHTSA crash testing standards. Considering that the small-offset frontal crashes account for some 25% of all injuries and fatalities, it seems fair that small cars ought to be tested this way. The only problem, aside from automakers needing to play catchup, is that consumers may very likely see small cars are not worth their lives, and head back to larger, and typically less fuel-efficient, vehicles.

Image © IIHS

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