RUCKERSVILLE, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety began a new chapter Friday, opening an expanded testing facility that will enable it to evaluate the latest crash avoidance technologies year-round.
The $30 million expansion of the Vehicle Research Center was made possible through the support of IIHS member companies. The centerpiece is a 5-acre covered track, one of the largest fabric-covered structures in the United States, which will allow testing to continue rain or shine. Six fabric panels supported by steel trusses arc over the 700-foot-by-300-foot track and are supported by 18 concrete piers, which weigh a total of 7,000 tons and contain more than 39 miles of steel reinforcement bars.
An existing outdoor track was expanded, bringing the total area of track, including the covered section, to 15 acres. A new office and conference space was also part of the project.
IIHS is best known for the crash tests it conducts to evaluate how well vehicles protect occupants in the event of a crash. The tests comprise the core of the Institute's vehicle ratings program, which pushes manufacturers to continually improve the crashworthiness of their vehicles.
"Now we're entering an exciting new phase focused on technology that can prevent crashes from occurring in the first place," IIHS President Adrian Lund says. "With the expanded facility, IIHS can more quickly evaluate new features that promise to move us closer to the goal of zero crash deaths and injuries."
IIHS already rates front crash prevention systems. Recently, researchers at the VRC have been looking at how well those systems can identify pedestrians. Ratings of headlight systems, including those that swivel in response to steering, also are on the horizon. The Institute has developed robotic equipment to help simulate real-life potential crashes for safe and accurate testing.
"Advanced technology that can prevent many kinds of crashes is the next frontier of auto safety," says the Chairman of the IIHS Board of Directors, Neal Menefee. "Insurers are proud to support IIHS as it expands its research programs and facilities to undertake new work that will make our roads safer."
Although advanced features may one day eliminate most crashes, it is essential that vehicles continue to include a high level of crash protection. The new emphasis on crash avoidance doesn't mean that IIHS will curtail its crashworthiness testing. Vehicles still need improvement in this area. For example, many models continue to lag behind in the small overlap front crash test that IIHS introduced in 2012.
Watch a video on the Vehicle Research Center expansion