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Crash compatibility between cars and light trucks: benefits of lowering front-end energy-absorbing structure in SUVs and pickups

Baker, Bryan C.; Nolan, Joseph M.; O'Neill, Brian; Genetos, Alexander P.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
January 2008

Passenger vehicles are designed to absorb crash energy in frontal crashes through deformation or crush of energy-absorbing structures forward of the occupant compartment. In collisions between cars and light trucks (i.e., pickups and SUVs), however, the capacity of energy-absorption structures may not be fully utilized because mismatches often exist between the heights of these structures in the colliding vehicles. In 2003 automakers voluntarily committed to new design standards aimed at reducing the height mismatches between cars and light trucks. By September 2009 all new light trucks will have either the primary front structure (typically the frame rails) or a secondary structure connected to the primary structure low enough to interact with the primary structures in cars, which for most cars is about the height of the front bumper. To estimate the overall benefit of the voluntary commitment, the real-world crash experience of light trucks already meeting the height-matching criteria was compared with that of light trucks not meeting the criteria for 2000-2003 model light trucks in collisions with passenger cars during calendar years 2001-2004. The estimated benefits of lower front energy-absorbing structure were a 19 percent reduction (p<0.05) in fatality risk to belted car drivers in front-to-front crashes with light trucks and a 19 percent reduction (p<0.05) in fatality risk to car drivers in front-to-driver-side crashes with light trucks.