No Good News from IIHS Rear-End Crash Tests on SUVs and Pickups
Few Vehicles Rate "Good" for Whiplash Protection
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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has just released new tests for rear crash protection in current model SUVs and pickups. Disturbingly, only six of the 44 SUVs and none of the 15 pickups rated "Good" for protection against whiplash injuries.
Specifically, only the Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Subaru Forester, and Volvo XC90 models received a rating of "Good." "Poor" ratings were given to the Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner, and some of the seats in the Ford F-150 and Dodge Dakota pickups, among other popular cars.
Why does it matter? While consumers generally give far more attention to features like airbags and antilock brakes, neck injuries are actually the most common serious injury reported in automobile crashes. While many people recover from whiplash, others are left with chronic neck problems. All told, neck injuries account for more than $8.5 billion each year — a full 25 percent of all auto insurance claims, according to the IIHS.
"People think of head restraints as headrests, but they're not. They're important safety devices," said Institute president Adrian Lund. "You're more likely to need the protection of a good head restraint in a collision than the other safety devices in your vehicle because rear-end collisions are so common."
This marks the first time that the Institute has tested SUV and pickup seats with the BioRid crash test dummy, which can measure forces on the neck during a simulated rear-end crash. The IIHS tested minivans in September 2005 and cars in November 2004 using the same methodology.
In all tests thus far, the results were disappointing: Few vehicles — including luxury vehicles — have a design that will protect drivers and passengers from injury in a rear-end collision.
According to Lund, the key to reducing whiplash injury risk is to keep the head and torso moving together. That means that the head restraint must work in combination with the seat itself in order to protect an occupant.
To perform the test, the IIHS first measures a head restraint/seat combination for its "geometry." If the position of the head restraint wouldn't protect the head of an average-size man, the car is automatically relegated to the rating of "Poor." Vehicles that rated poor for this reason include the BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Jeep Wrangler, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Mitsubishi Montero, Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, and Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series.
If a vehicle passes the geometry test, it qualifies for the "dynamic" test, which simulates the impact by a car of the same weight traveling 20 mph. Researchers measure how the head and torso move after impact. Many of the cars that passed the geometry test subsequently failed the dynamic test.
BMW, Saab, and Volvo were the pioneers of "active" safety technology, including active head restraint designs. Spurred by increased consumer awareness, and thus increased demand, much of the auto industry is following suit.
Despite this, the Institute's test showed that not all of these advanced designs equate to better safety. Active head restraints in three Nissan models were rated "Marginal" or "Poor," for example, whereas the Ford Freestyle's restraint was rated "Good," despite the lack of an active safety design.
The IIHS plans to continually update rear-end crash tests on cars, minivans, and SUV/trucks, with the next published car test expected later this year. Full test results for all vehicles thus far, and a video illustrating the head restraint tests, can be found through the IIHS news release page. For more details on rear-end crash tests, see Edmunds.com's article, "Protect Your Neck."