ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crashworthiness evaluations are based primarily on a vehicle's performance in a frontal offset crash test. In response to the performance of its vehicles in the latest round of tests, one automaker has criticized the Institute, claiming its test doesn't reflect real crashes. However, these criticisms are invalid.
General Motors claims that the Institute's 40 mpg offset crash into a deformable barrier is "highly unusual" and that it represents "only about 4 hundredths of 1 percent" of the passengers vehicles in a federal database of crashes. What's relevant is not the percentage of all crashes, but rather the percentage of serious or fatal crashes represented by the Institute's offset test. According to the same federal database General Motors cites, frontal crashes with severities equivalent to or greater than the Institute's offset test include about 25 percent of serious injuries and about half of all deaths that occur in real-world offset crashes.*
General Motors further claims that the Institute's test "duplicates a crash of one vehicle with a 40 percent overlap into an identical parked vehicle at approximately 74 to 76 mph." In a footnote to this claim, the company acknowledges that this unusual parked-vehicle crash scenario involves about the same severity as a far more common two-vehicle collision with "left-front to left-front impact at a speed of 37 mph" — a scenario represented by the Institute's test. General Motors ignores published research showing that frontal offsets are common in the real world and that an offset test into a deformable barrier provides a good indication of vehicle performance in serious on-the-road offset crashes.** This is why the same test as the Institute's at 40 mph is the focus of government crash test programs comparing new car performance in both Australia and the United Kingdom.