IIHS testing reveals that some manufacturers don’t reinforce the passenger’s side the same way they do the driver’s side. Here’s why not all mid-size SUVs are equally safe for passengers.
Long ago NHTSA, IIHS, and others developed crash tests to bring uniformity to the safety evaluation process. The automakers, of course, strive to earn high scores on these standardized crash tests and other evaluations. After a while, any score but “Good” became an anomaly. However, the groups all have limited resources, and so they always tested the driver’s side in crash tests. The theory being that there is always a driver in the vehicle, but not always a passenger. Two years ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wondered how well model year 2015 vehicles would do if the test was instead moved to the passenger’s side. The testing revealed that many compact crossovers that had been rated a “Top Safety Pick” were not reinforced for safety on the passenger side. IIHS later told automakers that they would begin testing on both sides to give them time to adapt and to strengthen their designs. In this latest round of testing, IIHS found that two automakers still have popular midsized 2018 model year crossover models that earn the lowest score of “Poor” when tested on the Passenger’s side.
One important test that IIHS conducts is not done by other rating agencies like NHTSA. The passenger-side small overlap test simulates a crash that occurs where just the front corner of the vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. Studies of real-world crashes proved that these crashes are surprisingly deadly, due in part to the fact the object struck does not contact much of the “frame” or safety structure of the vehicle. A score of Good on this test is now required to earn top ratings from IIHS.
Unfortunately, IIHS continues to find that some automakers have not yet adapted to the new testing and still don’t design and manufacture their vehicles to protect passengers at the same level the driver is protected. “Although some vehicles in this group offer very good protection, in other models, the airbags, safety belts and structure showed serious deficiencies,” says IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “In those SUVs, a front-seat passenger would be at risk of injuries to the head, hip or leg in a right-side small overlap front crash.”
The tests revealed that the Poor-rated Ford Explorer body structure collapsed, “severely reducing the survival space.” The Jeep Grand Cherokee test revealed multiple problems. The front airbags failed to do their job properly and the side airbags didn’t even deploy. The passenger door also opened. David Zuby said the test indicated a risk of, “ejection or partial ejection” of the occupant. Testing thus far has shown that the 2019 Kia Sorento is the top-rated midsized crossover for safety. It earns a score of Good on all crash tests, has headlights rated Good, and has Superior-rated active safety systems available.
Analysis of real-world fatalities has proven that midsize crossovers are the safest type of vehicle in which to travel. However, the results of this most recent round of testing also prove that not all popular models are equally safe.