Safety is increasingly becoming an important consideration for many consumers when choosing a new car. Features such as antilock brakes and airbags are being fitted as standard on more and more cars, even on some variants of new entry-level vehicles. One preconception is that small cars are less safe because they are lighter and are thus subject to more force when involved in a collision. This is only partly true, as well-engineered small cars can be just as safe for their occupants as larger vehicles.
Recently, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), based in America, has released the performance results of small vehicles in its small overlap front crash test. The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. Twenty-five percent of the vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 64 kilometers per hour.
This is a more severe test of a car’s structure and safety features than the US federal government’s full frontal crash test or IIHS’ moderate overlap test, as a smaller area of the car has to absorb the full impact. The IIHS says that in many vehicles, such an impact misses the primary structures designed to manage the crash energy. In addition, there’s a greater probability that the car will rotate, displacing the occupant (in this case, a 50th percentile male dummy) and moving him away from the airbags. The IIHS instituted this test as this type of crash accounted for nearly a quarter of frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front-seat occupants.
IIHS notes that as a group, small cars fared worse than their midsize counterparts in this test. Of the 12 small cars subjected to this test, only two earned the top rating of “good,” both of them Honda Civics: the two- and four-door models. The range of results is from “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” to “poor.” The Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Scion tC earned “acceptable” ratings, qualifying them for a Top Safety Pick Plus award. The Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, and Volkswagen Beetle received a “marginal” overall rating, while the Nissan Sentra, Kia Soul and Kia Forte received a “poor” overall rating.
David Zuby, the Institute’s chief research officer, said, “In the worst cases, safety cages collapsed, driver airbags moved sideways with unstable steering columns and the dummy’s head hit the instrument panel. Side curtain airbags didn’t deploy or didn’t provide enough forward coverage to make a difference. All of this adds up to marginal or poor protection in a small overlap crash.”
The Nissan Sentra showed significant occupant compartment intrusion, with the left front wheel pushing back the door hinge pillar and instrument panel toward the occupant. The Kia Forte, the worst-performing vehicle in the crash, allowed too much seat belt slack and had a side curtain airbag that didn’t provide enough coverage. The VW Beetle’s steering column moved nearly 5 inches to the right and the dummy’s upper body moved to the left, moving it out of position relative to the airbag. The dummy’s head hit the dashboard. The Corolla was not included in the test, as an all-new model is making its debut.
We must grimly note that the IIHS tests apply to US-market vehicles, which are better-equipped, with all models having side and curtain airbags. The local versions of the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Kia Soul and Forte, and Chevrolet Sonic all do not have side or curtain airbags. The Kia Soul and Forte, in fact, feature only one airbag, on the driver’s side. The Chevrolet Cruze has side airbags for the higher variants but no curtain airbag. Mr. Crash Test Dummy (and he could be us) would no doubt fare much, much worse in a Philippine-spec small car.
In our experience, car buyers in the Philippines tend to consider, aside from purchase price, convenience features, styling and fuel economy above other factors, including safety. We have never heard a question about a new car purchase centering on the safety factor of the vehicles being considered.
Yet safety simply cannot be compromised. Engineers must improve the structural integrity of new vehicles, to make for a strong occupant compartment that resists intrusion. For their part, local car distributors must provide side and curtain airbags as standard, or at the very least, offer them as an option. Adding a side and curtain airbag will be money well-spent, in case your appointment with destiny ever comes around if you’re behind the wheel.
Check out the video explaining more about the small overlap crash test:
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