WASHINGTON - Side-impact airbags do not guarantee a vehicle top ratings in the government's side-impact crash tests, results from the latest round of testing show.
A 2000 Ford Taurus equipped with side airbags for the front seat received three stars for side-impact protection of the driver. Only the driver's side is tested.
The government rating system gives one to five stars for the protection provided to dummies in both frontal- and side-impact crash tests. There is no failing score, but a five-star rating is the best. And the difference between a five-star score and a three-star score is significant.
In side-impact testing, five stars mean a 5 percent or less chance of a life-threatening chest injury, the government says. Three stars mean an 11 to 20 percent chance.
Ford Motor Co. is looking into the government's Taurus test to see if it was accurate.
'It surprised us, too,' said Sara Tatchio, Ford's safety spokeswoman. The company's own internal testing produced better results, she added.
In the latest round of government testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted four frontal-impact crashes and eight side-impact crashes with 2000 model year vehicles.
Three test cars besides the Taurus were equipped with side airbags in the front seat. All received four stars for the protection provided to a dummy in the driver's position.
They were the Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Avalon and Buick LeSabre.
Without having side airbags, the Honda Odyssey and Mercury Villager each received five-star ratings for the driver position.
The Ford Focus, without side airbags, received three stars for the driver. The Subaru Legacy wagon, also without side airbags, received four stars.
NHTSA is in the midst of 58 crash tests of 2000 model year vehicles for the agency's New Car Assessment Program. NHTSA publishes results so consumers can use them in making purchasing decisions.
For front-impact scores vehicles are run at 35 mph into a solid barrier, 5 mph faster than what is required for compliance with safety standards. For side-impact ratings, a movable, deformable barrier is angled at 38.5 mph into the sides of cars and trucks, also 5 mph faster than compliance testing.