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IIHS finds vehicles rated ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ in frontal crashes decrease risk of driver fatalities

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Insurance | Technology
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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says drivers of vehicles that receive a “good” or “acceptable” rating in its driver-side small overlap front crash test reduce the risk of dying in a real-world frontal crash by 12% and 11%, respectively, compared to a “poor” rated vehicle.

To determine the progress of crash risk improvements, IIHS researchers used proprietary VIN-decoding software maintained by its affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute to identify the make, series, and model year of vehicles involved in frontal crashes between 2012 and 2020. That information was cross-referenced with IIHS driver-side small overlap front crash ratings. From that, researchers calculated the number of driver deaths per total police-reported frontal crashes for each rating and adjusted the results for vehicle type, curb weight, and driver demographics.

“The numbers confirm that strong performance in the institute’s small overlap front crash test translates into big reductions in fatality risk,” said Eric Teoh, director of statistical services at IIHS and one of the study’s authors.

IIHS added the driver-side small overlap front crash test to its crash evaluations in 2012 to target the cause of fatal crashes that still occurred even though virtually all vehicles were earning good ratings in the long-running moderate overlap test, IIHS said. At that time, an IIHS study indicated that small overlap crashes accounted for about a quarter of frontal crashes that killed or seriously injured drivers in good-rated moderate overlap vehicles.

The driver-side and the passenger-side small overlap test introduced subsequently are designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or with an object like a tree or utility pole. This type of test is especially challenging because there is often no direct impact with the vehicle’s frame rail so the cabin and other structures take on the bulk of the crash energy.

Teoh examined only the driver-side test in this study because every vehicle involved in a crash has a driver but the passenger seat is often empty thus affecting fatality statistics.

While the moderate overlap test involves 40% of the width of the vehicle, in the small overlap test 25% of the vehicle collides with the barrier. The test vehicle travels at 40 mph toward a rigid barrier with a dummy representing an average-sized man positioned in the driver seat. Ratings are assigned based on the amount of intrusion into the cabin, injury-predicting measurements collected from the dummy, and engineer evaluation of how well the restraints controlled the dummy’s movement during the crash.

When the small overlap program began, with the driver-side test, about 10% of the vehicles IIHS tested earned a good rating while 40% were rated poor. Today, virtually every vehicle tested earns a good rating in driver- and passenger-side tests.

A “marginal” rating was associated with a 5% lower risk of driver death compared to a “poor” rating.

“Notably, federal crash databases do not provide enough information to identify small overlap crashes, so the sample was not limited to the crashes that the test is designed to address,” IIHS noted. “The effect of a good rating is likely much larger among those specific crashes.”

Repairer Driven News also found, based on the most recent Mitchell International data that the distribution of injury types in third-party bodily injury claims remained consistent from January 2019 to January 2022, excluding a 6% increase in the number of claimants diagnosed with soft-tissue injuries. However, the data isn’t specific to the types of crashes.

From 2017 through the end of 2021, bodily injury third-party claimant evaluation and management services increased by 19% per unit and pain management services by 32% per unit. Mitchell noted that market rates and usual and customary charges drive increases. In general, third-party auto claim costs have been on the rise due to social inflation, “nuclear” settlements, and increasing medical costs, according to Mitchell’s findings.


Featured image: Frontal crash test photo provided by IIHS

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