Curbside Newsstand: IIHS Revises Side Impact Crash Test For Better Real World Accuracy

No one wants to think about being in collision, but it’s something that impacts us, whether we’re involved in one or not. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently decided to implement a more rigorous side impact test better suited to account for real world crashes. The new standard will allow researchers to more accurately determine how sedans are affected by a side impact involving a crossover. As a response to the rise of SUVs, the original side impact testing regime debuted in 2003. Seems like it’s time for an update.

IIHS is moving to a new standard partially because the current one has been so successful. According to the organization, 99 percent of new vehicles earn a good rating. Problem solved? Not really. For starters, the NHSTA hasn’t updated their side crash tests since the IIHS developed the first standards fifteen years ago. The American government uses a movable barrier that adjusts for the height of the vehicle, which neglects the impact a crossover or SUV can have on a sedan or shorter vehicle.

You may be wondering why the IIHS needs to update their test at all. Side impact crashes represented 23 percent of all vehicle fatalities in 2018. So there’s still room for improvement. The data IIHS compiled over the years came to several conclusions about those deaths. For every additional centimeter of B-pillar intrusion, IIHS researches estimated that occupants are 3 percent more likely to be killed in a collision.

They also analyzed data from actual car crashes. Real-world impacts tended to be more severe and were located farther away from the B-pillar than laboratory tests. Harsher impacts probably resulted from heavier vehicles not being accounted for in the current testing regime. The IIHS currently uses a 3,300 barrier in their crashes. That’s about as heavy as your average mid-size sedan. With the rise of crossovers, the organization will most likely switch to a heavier one when the new standards are finalized.

The IIHS is also considering raising the speed of their side impact test to 37. That’s a 6 mph increase from the current standard. Paired with a barrier that’s 500 pounds heavier, the crash energy of the proposed test is increased by 82 percent. That new barrier will need to be redesigned though, because it turns out the uniformity of the front portion of the barrier contributed to crash damage that failed to mimic real-world collisions.

No test can be perfect. The NHSTA and IIHS still use outdated and heavily biased crash test dummies in their tests. That’s extremely unfortunate, especially when the data clearly demonstrates the need for dummies with different dimensions. In any event, it’s probably the right time for an updated side impact standard.