WASHINGTON -- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it may add passenger-side evaluations to its influential crashworthiness ratings program after it found that several small crossovers showed disparities in driver- and passenger-side protection in the group’s tough small-overlap crash test.
A study released Thursday by the IIHS subjected seven small-crossover nameplates to the small-overlap crash on the vehicles’ passenger side. The test -- designed to simulate a corner impact with a tree, utility pole or another vehicle -- is normally done on the driver side. In issuing the ratings, IIHS engineers look at how well the passenger compartment holds up; the extent of injuries as measured by sensors on the crash dummy; and how much the dummy moves during the crash.
Each model had earned the top IIHS rating of “good” in the driver-side test, but only the 2016 Hyundai Tucson received a “good” rating on the passenger side, the insurer-funded group said in a statement.
Of the six other crossovers tested, the 2015 Toyota RAV4 fared worst with a “poor” rating on the passenger side. The 2014 Subaru Forester and 2014 Nissan Rogue each received the second-worst rating of “marginal.” The 2015 Mazda CX-5, 2015 Honda CR-V and 2015 Buick Encore received “acceptable” ratings, IIHS second-best.
As Automotive News first reported last year, IIHS began the passenger-side testing project after observing that some automakers were limiting structural crashworthiness improvements to the driver-side only.
The latest tests were limited to a group of small crossovers, but IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says the group believes the results are representative of what would happen in other vehicle segments.
IIHS is now pushing automakers to offer similar levels of protection to both sides of new vehicles, though it acknowledges that vehicles are inherently asymmetrical.
That push may come by way of adding a passenger-side crash rating to the IIHS’s coveted Top Safety Pick awards criteria, which already incorporate the driver-side results and other crash tests. The group will review automakers near-term engineering plans for passenger-side crashworthiness enhancements and decide whether to add the test by January, Rader said.
Automakers “that haven’t made this change need to let us know that they’re moving up the timetable to make the change because we’ve had this test in place now since 2012, and the automakers have known about the driver-side tests for several years before that,” Rader said. “For those that haven’t made the change, we want to send the message that it’s time to do it on the passenger side.”
David Zuby, IIHS’s chief research officer, said in a statement that the disparities found in the study were unsurprising. The safety group had encouraged automakers to go ahead with improvements on the driver side only, if it meant they could make the changes faster and cover more vehicles in the short term.
Toyota says it did just that after the small-overlap test was introduced in 2012. “Rather than waiting to re-engineer both driver’s and passenger’s sides, we took immediate steps to enhance performance on the driver’s side,” Toyota said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we’ve incorporated enhancements on both the driver’s and passenger’s side for vehicles built on Toyota’s new TNGA platforms, beginning with the 2016 Prius.”
According to the IIHS, 13 automakers have made structural changes to 97 vehicles since the small-overlap test was introduced in 2012, with nearly 75 percent of those vehicles earning the group’s top rating in the test after the changes.
A Hyundai spokesman said the brand “continually strive[s] to provide outstanding passenger safety to our customers, regardless of vehicle size or price.” A Mazda spokesman said the company will carefully review the results, noting that the CX-5 is rated a “Top Safety Pick +,” IIHS’ highest safety accolade. Representatives of the automakers were unavailable or didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.