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Side-Impact Collision Testing Come A Long Way

Most everyone has seen car accident crash test dummies on television. Most simulated events, however, only show the dummies being hit from the front or rear of the vehicle they are riding in. Rarely do we see simulated side impact collisions-collisions that happen when a vehicle strikes the side of another vehicle, often in the door area with a passenger riding on the other side of the door.

However, surprisingly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that side-impact car accidents actually make up approximately one-fourth of U.S. passenger deaths. Luckily, testing that prevents injury from side impacts is still underway.

Two major groups do most of the side-impact safety testing. The nonprofit IIHS and the government agency the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have their own testing methods, reporting and priorities.

In its side-impact tests, the IIHS uses dummies about the size of small women or 12-year-old children, the size of people more likely to have head trauma in side crashes. The NHTSA uses dummies the size of average men.

The two organizations also use different sizes of barriers to simulate the vehicles that crash into the sides of other vehicles. The NHTSA uses a barrier the height of a passenger car, but the IIHS uses a higher, heavier barrier shaped more like an SUV or pickup, representing more closely the higher numbers of those larger vehicle types.

The NHTSA rates vehicles based on the risk of chest injuries, but also mentions when head trauma is likely to be "excessive." IIHS in its ratings figures in the chances of head, pelvis, neck, chest, abdomen and femur injuries.

The IIHS reports that when it started side tests in 2003, four out of five cars had ratings worse than "good." Now with the advent of side airbags as standard equipment in most cases, most new vehicle structures rate as "good."

IIHS emphases, however, that side airbags need strong, effective support structure built into the vehicle to support the work of the bags.

Anyone, however, looking into purchasing a new vehicle is encouraged to look at the side-crash results from both organizations.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "Side-impact crash test program," June 9, 2012

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