On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin’s BMW 7 Series was involved in a horrific crash that killed Putin’s 40-year-veteran chauffeur.
Large luxury cars like the BMW 7 Series need to comply with mandatory safety standards, but they’re almost never crash tested by major safety agencies, and we wondered why.
The accident occurred on Tuesday, while the Russian President was in China for the G20 summit, involved in meetings with world leaders including President Obama.
Security footage showed the accident, which occurred on Kutuzovsky Avenue in Moscow. The BMW, driven by a man who has been referred to as “Putin’s favorite” chauffeur, appeared to have crossed the median on Kutuzovsky Avenue and hit what appears to be a Mercedes-Benz S-Class in the kind of offset head-on crash that the IIHS’s small overlap crash test tries to replicate. It’s unclear whether either driver was wearing a safety belt.
“Small overlap frontal crashes primarily affect a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures,” according to the IIHS. “Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion in the occupant compartment and resulting in serious leg and foot injuries.”
The driver of the BMW 7 Series was killed in the crash, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz was taken to a local hospital “in critical condition,” according to Express.uk.
Just how safe is a BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class? It’s exceedingly difficult to tell, because neither of those cars has been crash tested by NHTSA, the IIHS or Euro NCAP. The BMW 7 Series was never crash tested by NHTSA between 2012 and 2016 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hasn’t been crash tested all the way back to 2011.
Luxury cars aren’t typically crash tested by the IIHS, unless the automaker specifically pays for the test. “We try to choose vehicle groups that are the heart of the new vehicle market in the U.S.; the kinds of vehicles that most people buy,” IIHS senior vice president of communications Russ Rader told AutoWeb.
Neither does NHTSA crash test every vehicle. “Each year, NHTSA tests a sample of new vehicles predicted to have high sales volume or vehicles that have been structurally redesigned,” according to NHTSA. “Tested vehicles are purchased from dealerships across the country; the vehicles are not supplied directly to NHTSA by the manufacturer, a common [sic] misperception.”
Neither the BMW 7 Series nor the Mercedes-Benz S-Class were crash tested in Europe’s NCAP test, either. “It is not possible for Euro NCAP to test every new car that comes onto the market, nor can it test all variants of each car offered by the manufacturer,” according to Euro NCAP. “To provide the broadest range of consumer information, each year a selection is made of the most popular and interesting models.”
How do you tell whether an expensive luxury car like the BMW 7 Series or the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is safe? You trust that the manufacturer has developed a car that can withstand the forces of a horrendous crash.
The cars are crash tested, but just not by an independent agency, which Euro NCAP, the IIHS and NHTSA are.
BMW has crash test videos of the BMW 7 Series on its YouTube channel, but the latest we could find was from 2009, a completely different generation of 7 Series.
Similarly, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class crash test below is from 2010, and took place at the Mercedes-Benz Safety Center in Sindelfingen, Germany.
What should inspire confidence, however, is Mercedes-Benz’s leadership in safety technology. As far back as 1939, Mercedes-Benz began considering occupant safety, developing rigid floors, side impact protection and collapsible steering columns. The Mercedes-Benz Safety Center in Sindelfingen, not far from Stuttgart, is recognized as the world’s most advanced crash test center, and is now capable of crash testing cars with autonomous technology on board.
BMW also has a long heritage in safety innovations, incorporating anti-lock brakes across its vehicle line in 1986, and incorporating dual-threshold airbags that deploy at lower rates for unbelted passengers in 1994.