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Side Air Bags Focus of SUV Test

Compact vehicles rated best in a study had the head-protecting gear, which can make the difference between injuries and death.

June 18, 2003|From Reuters

Only two of 12 compact sport utility vehicles scored a "good" grade in a new crash test designed to measure injuries resulting from an SUV or pickup truck ramming into the side of the vehicles.

Vehicles that earned "good" ratings had head-protecting side air bags, which can make the difference between minor injuries and death in a side-impact crash.

The side air bag-equipped Subaru Forester and Ford Escape scored "good" ratings in the crash test, which was developed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS crashed a 3,300-pound weight -- shaped to simulate the front end of a typical SUV or pickup truck -- into the side of the vehicles at about 30 mph.

A second Ford Escape and six other compact SUVs without side air bags scored "poor" ratings. The heads of some of the test dummies smashed through the side window and struck the top of the simulated crash vehicle.

"It certainly demonstrates clearly the benefits you can get protecting both the torso and the head with side air bags," said Brian O'Neill, president of the IIHS, an auto safety organization funded by large insurers.

The IIHS also gave a "good" rating to Mazda Motor Corp.'s Tribute SUV, even though it didn't test the vehicle, because it is a mechanical twin of the Ford Escape.

The Mitsubishi Outlander scored the worst in the test. The crash barrier intruded into the passenger compartment of the Outlander, striking the driver dummy's head, and the injury measurements recorded on the head as well as on the torso and pelvis were very high, the IIHS said.

Comparing the Forester with the Outlander, O'Neill said: "In one case, serious injury would be unlikely; in the other case, fatal injuries are a distinct possibility."

The Toyota RAV4, Honda Element, Saturn Vue, Land Rover Freelander and Suzuki Grand Vitara also scored "poor" ratings in the crash test. The IIHS noted that the Suzuki Vitara and the Chevrolet Tracker are almost the same as the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and assigned the same rating to all three vehicles.

A Hyundai Santa Fe equipped with side air bags scored an "acceptable" rating in the test; a Honda CR-V without side air bags scored a "marginal" rating.

The IIHS began conducting crash tests eight years ago. Its frontal crash test is more severe than the test conducted by U.S. safety regulators. Within that time, the automotive industry has adapted its vehicles to the point that almost all cars and trucks now score "good" or "acceptable" ratings.

With the growing number of SUVs and pickup trucks on U.S. roads, the IIHS decided several years ago to develop a side-impact test that would show the dangers of larger vehicles on the roads.

Several of the compact SUVs offered side air bags as optional equipment. But only the Ford Escape was tested twice because Ford agreed to pay to have a second vehicle tested, O'Neill said.

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