In the quest for increased safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will implement a new side impact crash standard that requires vehicles to protect occupants against a narrow fixed object, such as a telephone pole.
Currently, NHTSA’s side impact tests place vehicles against wide, moveable objects. This current specification protects vehicle occupants in the event of a car getting T-boned while going through an intersection. However, impacting a narrow, fixed object is the most dangerous single vehicle impact according to Stephen T. Kozak, chief global safety engineer at Ford.
The new NHTSA side impact crash test will analyze a vehicle’s ability to keep occupants safe in the event of sliding into a tree or a telephone pole by crashing a vehicle into a fixed 10-inch pole at a 75 to 90 degree angle. At the time of impact, the vehicle will be traveling between 18 and 20 mph. NHTSA will impose the same set of regulations used on other crash tests to determine the amount of damage sustained by the occupants.
To meet the new standards, NHTSA “anticipates that vehicle manufacturers will install dynamically deploying side airbags to meet the proposed vehicle to pole test” with an estimate cost of “$121 per vehicle.” Kozak, however, says the costs could be much greater. The new standard cannot be met by simply installing a two-stage airbag (which automakers will do), but the whole side structure must be reinforced as well. This will require higher strength steels, which are more expensive to manufacture.
Additionally, the cost of developing and testing of the two-stage airbag system isn’t insignificant. Engineers must come up with an airbag that deploys softly to cushion occupants’ heads, but offer a firmer lower portion to provide support to the pelvic area. The system must then be tested on a computer simulation, with engineers performing iterations of the system until it is ready for physical crash testing.