Side head and torso airbags have greatly boosted driver safety in left-side impact crashes, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Side bags alone can make the difference between a “poor” result, and a “good” result, as they do in the case of the 2003 Accord, although structural integrity is also very important. Drivers in cars with a good rating were 70 percent less likely to die in such a crash than drivers in cars rated poor. Drivers of vehicles rated “acceptable” and “marginal” are 64 percent and 49 percent less likely to die in such crashes than drivers of poor-rated cars, respectively.
The study is the most recent in a series the IIHS undertook in 2004 to nudge manufacturers towards improving side impact safety. Has it worked? “The answer is a resounding yes,” says David Zuby, the Institute’s chief research officer. Zuby credits the agency’s rating system for pushing the manufacturers towards side head and torso bags, as well as strong side structures, which have also been very important in improving side impact safety. Currently, 78 percent of vehicle designs that have been tested by IIHS have good side ratings, compared with only about one third of vehicles tested during the program’s first two years.
Some winners: ’07-’09 Prius, Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord (all good).
Some losers: PT Cruiser (poor), BMW 3 series convertible (marginal), VW Beetle (poor), and the previous generation Maxima (marginal).
Twenty-seven percent of all in vehicle traffic deaths in 2009—6,362– were caused by side impacts.
In the Institutes test, a vehicle is hit on the driver side by a deformable barrier weighing 3,300 lbs and traveling at 31 mph. The barrier’s height and shape are designed like the front of a typical SUV or pickup.
Overall safety ratings here: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx
Press release and study here: http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr011911.html