Spring 2007 Forward to a Friend


Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – IIHS


Photos: Courtesy of IIHS

IN A SPRAWLING FACILITY NEAR RUCKERSVILLE, VIRGINIA, ENGINEERS AND TECHNICIANS REGULARLY CAUSE THE LARGE-SCALE DESTRUCTION OF MULTITUDES OF VEHICLES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. IS THIS A SECRET GOVERNMENT FACILITY DEDICATED TO WEAPONS RESEARCH OR SOME MILITARY SKUNK WORKSSM OPERATION WORKING BELOW THE RADAR OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE?

No, but it is something almost as intriguing. It’s the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center (VRC). The VRC actually houses two distinct entities – the IIHS and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific organization dedicated to reducing losses – deaths, injuries, and property damage – from crashes on the nation’s highways.

Less known to the media and the public, HLDI also provides services to vehicle insurers. Its mission is to compute and publish insurance loss results by make and model.

Both organizations are wholly supported by auto insurers.


WHAT IIHS DOES
You might not recognize the names, but chances are good that you are familiar with the Institute’s research. The IIHS is best known for its 40-mph offset-crash program, which tests vehicles by propelling them head-on into a concrete barrier positioned to impact with just a little more than half of the vehicle’s front end. The test uses a propulsion system capable of accelerating full-size pickups to 50 mph. The system employs compressed nitrogen, hydraulic motors, and cables to tow the vehicles to their designated impact speeds.

iihs
The Institute supplies consumers worldwide with information about car crashworthiness through its Web site, www.iihs.org.

The IIHS also performs other tests designed to help consumers make car-buying decisions.

  • Side-impact tests represent what happens to people in vehicles struck in the side by another vehicle. For each impact, a mobile barrier with a deformable face representing the front end of a pickup or SUV hits the driver side of the vehicle being tested.
  • Rear impacts test the effectiveness of seatback/head-restraint combinations in reducing injuries from rear impacts.
  • Low-speed bumper tests assess and compare how well vehicle bumpers resist (or fail to resist) damage in minor impacts at 5 mph.

In addition, the VRC also conducts crash tests specifically to demonstrate new safety technologies and to illustrate hazardous practices. Demonstration tests show firsthand the effectiveness of vehicle seats and head restraints, the dangers of placing child seats in front of passenger airbags, and the hazards of riding in pickup cargo beds.

The IIHS distributes film of its tests to the media. The slow-motion films detail the stunning violence and massive damage inflicted upon a vehicle and its passengers in the fraction of a second it takes to absorb an impact. Sheet metal crinkles like wrapping paper. Glass sprays like water from a hose. Crash test dummies’ appendages are whip-cracked by the force of rapid deceleration. The action moves slowly, giving viewers plenty of time to think about the consequences of such a crash in the real world, with real people – not dummies.

test crashes

More than just fodder for television news magazines, the IIHS’ test program has become the unofficial standard for vehicle crash tests.

BENEFITS FOR CAR OWNERS

AND THE WINNERS ARE …

The 2007 IIHS awards designated three Subaru models – the Legacy with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Forester with ESC, and B9 Tribeca (which has ESC standard) – as Top Safety Picks, the most awards for any single automotive brand.

2007 Legacy 2.5 GT
2007 Legacy 2.5 GT
2007 Forester Sports 2.5 XT
2007 Forester Sports 2.5 XT
2007 B9 Tribeca
2007 B9 Tribeca
The Institute’s tests have not only inspired vehicle manufacturers to go beyond mandated safety requirements but also have influenced many consumers to rethink their vehicle purchases and alter their driving habits. The result is improved vehicle safety.

Thanks to the Institute’s work, late-model cars and other passenger vehicles are safer, and crash deaths and injuries have been reduced. The Institute supplies consumers worldwide with information about car crashworthiness through its Web site, www.iihs.org. It also publishes a monthly newsletter, Status Report, as well as advisories to keep consumers informed of its latest research.

iihs
Dummies are designed to provide physical and electronic information about crash tests.

TESTING, TESTING ...
The Institute scores a vehicle’s performance in its tests as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. The safest vehicles receive the Institute’s coveted Top Safety Pick designation, which is reserved for vehicles rated Good in all the categories or that have only one Acceptable rating and the rest Good.

As testament to the Institute’s influence, some manufacturers have revised their vehicles specifically to earn Top Safety Pick awards. For instance, many automakers have added standard side airbags with head protection, even though government regulations don’t require them. All 2007 Top Safety Pick winners have standard side airbags.