IIHS May Adjust Small Overlap Ratings to Reflect Passenger Safety

New ratings may ramp up next year

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is considering adding passenger-side ratings to its Top Safety Pick criteria, the agency said today. The announcement comes after it conducted small overlap tests on the passenger side of small crossovers and discovered the ratings were often much lower than the driver-side ratings they typically report.

The traditional small overlap test simulates what happens when the left front corner of a car hits a tree or pole at 40 mph. For a group of seven crossovers, IIHS tried small overlap tests on the right corner of the vehicle to see how a passenger would fare in such a crash. Turns out, not always well.

All seven crossovers IIHS tested had already received "Good" scores in the traditional small overlap test. But only the 2016 Hyundai Tucson managed to retain its top score in the passenger-side tests. The 2015 Buick Encore, 2015 Honda CR-V, and 2015 Mazda CX-5 earned a score equivalent to "Acceptable," while the 2014 Nissan Rogue and 2014 Subaru Forester ranked a step below at "Marginal." The 2015 Toyota RAV4 received a "Poor" rating.

Out of the seven crossovers, the RAV4 and Rogue suffered the most passenger-side intrusion, indicating a higher likelihood of serious injuries. The Rogue's door hinge pillar tore off due to the crash, while the RAV4's door flew open, raising the risk that the passenger would be ejected from the vehicle.

IIHS has conducted passenger-side testing for a little while now after noticing automakers haven't put the same amount of small overlap protection into the right side of the vehicle as the left. But IIHS hopes that will change.

"It's not surprising that automakers would focus their initial efforts to improve small overlap protection on the side of the vehicle that we conduct the tests on," said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, in a statement. "In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles. As time goes by, though, we would hope they ensure similar levels of protection on both sides."

Toyota was one of those automakers that focused on driver-side protection first. "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," Toyota said in a statement to Automotive News.

New passenger-side ratings may ramp up as early as next year, IIHS says. They could become a requirement for vehicles to win a safety award by as early as 2018.

Related Articles