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Posts Tagged ‘Safety’

Fewer 2010-Model Vehicles Pass Tougher Safety Tests

Posted by Corey Kaster on November 18, 2009


Associated Press

2010 Volvo S80


Shoppers looking to buy the safest 2010-model cars will have 67 fewer choices this year than they did in 2009. That’s because the test for safety ratings got a lot tougher.

A new roof-strength requirement aimed at protecting passengers in rollover crashes cut the number of top-rated vehicles to 27 for the 2010 model year, compared with 94 in 2009. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety added the roof test to the already-rigorous tests it uses to address increasingly specific circumstances under which drivers and passengers are injured and killed in collisions.

Safest Cars of 2010

The institute, an auto-safety research group funded by the insurance industry, named 19 cars and eight sport-utility vehicles as “top safety picks.” Among them are the Audi A3, Honda Civic, Dodge Journey and Ford Taurus. Auto makers with the most top-rated models include Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, with five vehicles making the cut. Ford Motor Co. and its Volvo unit had six top-rated vehicles, and Volkswagen AG and its Audi unit combined for five vehicles. Four Chrysler LLC vehicles got the top rating. General Motors Corp.’s Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu are also on the list.

Among major auto makers with no top picks is Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota’s Camry came close with good front, side and rollover protection, but fell short in the rear-impact test. A Toyota spokesman called the institute’s findings “extreme and misleading,” considering that Toyota and its units make 38 different vehicles and that only three were tested for roof strength. BMW AG says none of its models were tested by the institute and that its cars must pass rigorous rollover tests conducted internally.

To become a top safety pick, a vehicle has to have the insurance group’s top rating of “good” in front, side, rollover and rear-impact crash tests and also have electronic stability control, which helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles in situations that might otherwise result in crashes.

Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute, says his group tests about 50 to 55 vehicles during the model year, using its own funding. Additional cars are tested at the request of car makers, which in these cases pay for the test vehicle. Often these vehicles initially missed the top rating and were resubmitted for testing later in the model year. At the beginning of the 2009 model year, 72 vehicles received the group’s top rating. By the end of the year, following additional tests, the list grew to 94.

The 2010-model roof-strength requirement, however, pared the list considerably. In this test, a metal plate is pressed against one corner of the roof. To receive a top rating, the roof has to withstand a force equal to four times the vehicle’s weight without crushing the roof five inches inward.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this year said it was making its roof-strength test more stringent as well. In this test, a force equal to 2.5 times a vehicle’s weight will be applied separately to the right and left sides of the roof. The rule will limit how much the roof can buckle under the pressure. The previous standard was 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight.

The main difference between the two safety groups’ test programs is that the federal standard sets a requirement every vehicle must meet. The Insurance Institute tests are designed to show consumers the differences from one vehicle to another under more severe crash conditions.

Roof strength has long been a point of contention between the Insurance Institute and the auto industry, as well as among safety experts. Car makers have resisted tougher roof-strength standards, in part because they say their testing hasn’t shown a conclusive relationship between roof strength and occupant safety. They also say that focusing on roof strength in isolation doesn’t consider how well a vehicle’s structure performs as a whole in a rollover crash.

Other safety experts point out that most people killed in rollovers weren’t wearing seat belts and died after being partially or completely ejected from the vehicle. Some say this further clouds the role of roof strength in preventing fatalities.

The institute’s Mr. Lund says that while seat belts and crash-avoidance technology like electronic stability control are critical in reducing rollover fatalities, a strong roof is better at maintaining the overall integrity of a vehicle’s passenger compartment. Mr. Lund says his group’s research, which looked specifically at rollover crashes, indicated occupants die more often in vehicles with weaker roofs.

Top Models

Vehicles that received a top rating of “good” in all four crash tests—front, side, rollover and rear impact—and have electronic stability control to help drivers avoid crashes.

Large Cars Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKS, Volvo S80
Midsize Audi A3, Chevrolet Malibu built after Oct. 2009, Chrysler Sebring, with optional ESC, Dodge Avenger with optional ESC, Mercedes C class, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Jetta 4-door, Volkswagen Passat 4-door, Volvo C30
Small Cars Honda Civic 4-door, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf 4-door
Midsize SUVs Dodge Journey, Subaru Tribeca, Volvo XC60, Volvo XC90
Small SUVs Honda Element, Jeep Patriot, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan

Write to Jonathan Welsh at

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