Tiny Cars Get Poor Safety Rating In New Crash Test Study – Forbes

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014

Most minicars did not do well in a new frontal crash test.

Minicars were the worst performing group of any tested for small overlap frontal crash protection, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced today when it released the results of its new crash test for vehicles that are among the smallest on the U.S. market.

Only one minicar of 11 evaluated, the Chevrolet Spark, earned an acceptable rating.  None received the highest rating of Good by the institute,  a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry.

The worst performers were the Honda Fit and Fiat 500. During the testing of both cars, “intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver.” The dummy’s head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel when the Fit was evaluated, the institute said. And during the Fiat 500’s testing, the driver door opened after the hinges tore, creating a risk that the driver could be partially or completely ejected.

The Chevrolet Spark was the only minicar tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to earn an acceptable rating in the small overlap front test. None received a Good rating, the institute's highest rating

The Chevrolet Spark was the only minicar tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to earn an acceptable rating in the small overlap front test. None received a Good rating, the institute’s highest rating

The test, first introduced in 2012 after research showed that about 25% of serious injuries occurring in frontal crashes were the result of small overlap collisions, replicates what happens when the front corner on the driver’s side of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like as a tree or telephone pole at 40 mph.

“Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection,” Joe Nolan, the institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research said in a statement. “Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren’t performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash.”

The new test is more difficult than the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the institute’s own longstanding moderate overlap test, the institute said, because most of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone is bypassed. As a result, it is hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy and the occupant compartment can collapse. The institute noted that in many other size categories, “manufacturers have found ways to improve vehicle structures to meet this challenge.” For example, most of the 17 models in the small car category, which are a little larger than vehicles in the minicar group, have done much better in the test, it said.

Each of the 11 vehicles was rated good, acceptable, marginal or poor for overall performance, as well as in six categories, including structure, restraints and kinematics, and dummy injury.

Every minicar, including the Spark, received a marginal or poor rating for structure, “the most fundamental element of occupant protection,” the institute said. And with the exception of the Spark and the Mazda 2, all the tested vehicles also earned low ratings for restraints and kinematics.

Despite its marginal structure, the Spark achieved an acceptable overall rating because the dummy’s movement was fairly well controlled and its injury measures were low, the institute noted, possibly due to the fact that the structure around the lower part of the occupant compartment held up better than other minicars, despite intrusion in the upper part.

However, the institute advises consumers to remember that while the Spark offers more small overlap protection than other minicars evaluated, it does not protect as well as a larger and heavier vehicles with comparable ratings. It also noted that “neither the Spark nor the other minicars in the test group offer front crash prevention, an increasingly common safety feature that can prevent or mitigate some kinds of frontal crashes.”

Click here for more information about the testing and detailed ratings for each car.

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