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Crashworthiness refers to how a vehicle responds during an accident and what happens to the vehicle’s occupants as a result of the accident. Since 1970, there has been a federally mandated New Car Assessment program (NCAP) to analyze and rate crash data. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs independent crash tests and rates vehicles. In addition, manufacturers also perform their own crash safety test during development.

Basic Function of a Crash Test

There are several different types of tests run on vehicles to determine their crashworthiness. One test simulates a front-end collision at 40 mph. There are side impact tests and tests for airbags. In addition, rollover events are analyzed and rear-end collisions are investigated. However, the costs for these tests continue to rise as more test are recommended. One crash dummy with sensors can cost upward of $120,000, with the average crash test costing roughly $500,000. In addition, there are still issues a crash dummy cannot reveal.

How Vehicles Fail

Vehicles can fail safety tests in a variety of ways. Cars that fail frontal collision crash tests show injuries to passengers head and legs. Cars that fail rear collision tests show neck injuries. However, bodily injuries are not the only problems detected. These crash tests also indicate material or design failures.

The test analyses several different criteria including:

1. Did the frame (cage) of the car product the driver or passenger from intrusion?
2. Would the accident result in any injury?
3. Did the restraint system control movement?
4. Cost to repair the bumper?
5. Did the head restraint deter injury?
6. Overall safety

Crashworthiness Statistics

Approximately 30,000 individuals perish in automobile accidents each yea and more than half of these deaths occur from front-end collisions. In addition, the New York Times reported that 60 percent of all light-trucks failed rear-end crash tests. Almost 400 million vehicles have been recalled to correct a safety defect and crashworthiness tests help uncover many of these safety issues. Crash safety tests are considered 98 percent more severe than an actual accident.

Crashworthiness is an important characteristic when consumers choose an automobile and ranks as high as quality, fuel efficiency and performance. Car makers, government departments, insurance companies, the media and consumers all use crashworthiness data.

Examples of defects discovered in crashworthiness tests include:

In 1997, Transport Canada discovered a defect in the Ford F-150 during a crash test. When the vehicle was struck on the driver’s side, the door on the passenger side flew open.

In 2007, the Ford Ranger pickup truck failed a rear-collision crash test which indicated a passenger could sustain significant neck injuries during an accident.

In 2009, mini-cars like the Smart Car, Honda Fit or the Toyota Yaris failed front-end crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The tests indicated that passengers could suffer significant head injuries if the collision involved a larger or mid-sized vehicle.

Crashworthiness Lawsuits

Those involved in an accident that results in injuries that may have been prevented by safety features of a car (such as a seat belt or airbag) may wish to file a crashworthiness lawsuit to seek compensation for pain, suffering and medical costs.


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