Risks Higher for Front-Seat Passengers in Some S

The Fresh York Times

June 23, 2016

Front-seat passengers in some petite sport utility vehicles may not be as well protected as drivers in certain types of crashes, according to latest tests of seven vehicles by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The tests, known as petite overlap frontal tests, were similar to the kind that the institute conducts by directing the front-end influence to the driver’s side of the vehicle. But in these latest tests, whose results were released on Thursday, the influence was on the S.U.V.s’ front passenger side.

Among the petite S.U.V.s tested, a two thousand fifteen Toyota RAV4 received a rating of “poor” on its passenger-side results. A two thousand fourteen Nissan Rogue and two thousand fourteen Subaru Forester received “marginal” safety ratings for front-seat passengers.

All seven vehicles had received the highest rating — “good’’ — for protecting drivers in earlier, similar crash tests. But sitting next to the driver can be a riskier proposition.

Of the seven, only a two thousand sixteen Hyundai Tucson earned a “good’’ rating on the passenger-side test. The remaining three — a two thousand fifteen Buick Encore, a two thousand fifteen Honda CR-V and a two thousand fifteen Mazda CX-5 — were rated “acceptable.’’ (The different models reflect the very first year in each case when modification were made that enabled the vehicles to earn their “good” ratings for the driver-side tests.)

The findings matter because more than 1,600 passengers in the right front seats of vehicles of all types died in frontal crashes in 2014, according to the federal government’s fatality data.

It is not known how many of those crashes were of the sort replicated by the insurance institute’s tests, which involve twenty five percent of the front end of a vehicle striking a rigid barrier at forty miles an hour. The test, which uses dummies, aims to display what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and strikes an object like a tree or utility pole.

The insurance institute, which has been conducting this test for four years, was aware that automakers were focusing their initial safety improvement efforts on the driver’s side of vehicles — given that there is always a driver in the car, but not necessarily a front-seat passenger.

“Some manufacturers told us that in the brief term they could make more driver’s-side modifications to more vehicle models to improve safety rather than making improvements to both sides,’’ said Becky Mueller, a senior research engineer at the insurance institute and the lead author of the report on the latest tests. But the expectation was that automakers would begin to make modifications to the passenger side as well.

“We are now four years into the testing and we want to remind manufacturers that the brief term doesn’t last forever,” Mrs. Mueller said.

“Consumers are going to want the same level of protection for drivers and right-front passengers,” she said. “They expect that when we rate a vehicle ‘good,’ it applies to both sides of the vehicle.”

The petite overlap frontal test is the newest of the insurance institute’s crash tests. It began in two thousand twelve as the institute, which is funded by the insurance industry, was attempting to determine why people were still being earnestly injured or killed in frontal crashes, despite seatbelts, airbags and “good” frontal crash test ratings. One of its studies of newer vehicles found that petite overlap frontal crashes accounted for about twenty to twenty five percent of those injuries and deaths.

Automakers began redesigning their vehicles to get better scores on the fresh test and provide better protection. The insurance institute said that since the test’s introduction, thirteen automakers have made structural switches to ninety seven vehicles.

Because crash coerces in the puny frontal overlap test are concentrated on the front wheel, suspension and firewall, the passenger’s survival space can be earnestly compromised by intruding structures. The front wheel can be compelled back into the footwell, resulting in serious and debilitating gam and foot injuries on the driver’s side as the test dummy’s feet and gams get caught up in the metal pedals.

It is also effortless for drivers and passengers to hit their goes and chests against metal structures, like the instrument panel, protruding into the vehicle.

“If the structure is so badly intruded, the airbag can’t do its job effectively,” Mrs. Mueller said.

In the Toyota RAV4 test, the intrusion into the interior of the vehicle on the passenger’s side was thirteen inches deeper than on the driver’s side. And the RAV4’s passenger-side door popped open, which in a crash would put the occupant at risk of being ejected.

In 2013, when the RAV4 was tested for the very first time, it got a “poor” petite overlap rating. The two thousand fifteen model received a good rating, but Toyota did not make the same safety improvements to the passenger side.

In a written statement responding to the fresh test results, Toyota said, in part: “The I.I.H.S. petite overlap test is severe, specialized and goes beyond federal vehicle safety requirements.

“Rather than waiting to re-engineer both driver’s and passenger’s sides,’’ Toyota added, “we took instantaneous steps to enhance spectacle on the driver’s side.”

The company said that it had incorporated safety enhancements on both sides for vehicles built on Toyota’s fresh platforms, beginning with the two thousand sixteen Prius.

With the Nissan Rogue, maximum intrusion on the passenger side was ten inches more than on the driver’s side, and the door hinge pile, which is at the bottom of the passenger compartment where the rocker panel meets the A pile — a front roof support — was ripped off entirely, albeit the door remained closed.

In a written statement, Nissan said: “Nissan is committed to the safety and security of our customers and their passengers. We are aware of the I.I.H.S. testing and we are presently reviewing the details to assess opportunities for improved spectacle.’’

Hyundai, meantime, was blessed to promote its results. “Our two thousand sixteen Tucson’s good rating for both driver and passenger in the requesting I.I.H.S. petite overlap crash test reflects our commitment to passenger safety at every level,’’ Mike O’Brien, a vice president for Hyundai Motor America, said in a statement.

Here are the utter results of the side-by-side tests:

2016 Hyundai Tucson

2015 Buick Encore

Passenger side: ACCEPTABLE

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