Improved Crash Protection In Cars and Minivans

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on Wednesday released a study that reported today's SUVs and pickups pose less risk to drivers in cars and minivans during crashes compared to previous generations.

Until recently, SUVs and pickups were more likely than cars or minivans to be involved in crashes that killed occupants of other cars or minivans, according to IIHS. From 2000 to 2001, SUVs were involved in crashes that killed occupants of cars and minivans at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicles. That rate dropped by nearly two-thirds, to 16, from 2008 to 2009.

In comparison, the IIHS reports cars and minivans were involved in the deaths of occupants of other cars and minivans at a rate of 17 per million registered vehicles from 2008 to 2009.

Researchers attribute the change to improved crash protection in the cars and minivans, and newer designs of SUVs and pickups that align their front-end energy-absorbing structures with those of cars, according to IIHS.

IIHS said the more compatible vehicle designs are the result of efforts by automakers, the government, and the IIHS to address the problem of mismatched vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked automakers to address the compatibility issue amid concern regarding the changing vehicle mix on U.S. roads. In response, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers and the IIHS led a series of meetings in 2003 to come up with solutions. Participating automakers included: BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota and Volkswagen, according to IIHS.

IIHS said the companies agreed to build the front ends of SUVs and pickups so that their energy-absorbing structures would line up better with other cars, reducing the likelihood that an SUV or pickup would override a car in a collision. Better alignment allows both vehicles' front ends to manage the crash energy and to keep it away from the occupant compartments. The automakers also agreed to strengthen head protection with side airbags in all vehicles to improve outcomes when an SUV or pickup strikes another vehicle in the side, according to IIHS.