Occurrence of serious injury in real-world side impacts of vehicles with good side-impact protection ratings

Brumbelow, Matthew L. / Mueller, Becky C. / Arbelaez, Raul A.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)
June 2015

Objective: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) introduced its side impact consumer information test program in 2003. Since that time, side airbags and structural improvements have been implemented across the fleet and the proportion of good ratings has increased to 93% of 2012–2014 model year vehicles. Research has shown that drivers of good-rated vehicles are 70% less likely to die in a left-side crash than drivers of poor-rated vehicles. Despite these improvements, side impact fatalities accounted for about one quarter of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in 2012. This study is a detailed analysis of real-world cases with serious injury resulting from side crashes of vehicles with good ratings in the IIHS side impact test.
Methods: NASS-CDS and Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) were queried for occupants of good-rated vehicles who sustained an Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) = 3 injury in a side-impact crash. The resulting 110 cases were categorized by impact configuration and other factors that contributed to injury. Patterns of impact configuration, restraint performance, and occupant injury were identified and discussed in the context of potential upgrades to the current IIHS side impact test.
Results: Three quarters of the injured occupants were involved in near-side impacts. For these occupants, the most common factors contributing to injury were crash severities greater than the IIHS test, inadequate side-airbag performance, and lack of side-airbag coverage for the injured body region. In the cases where an airbag was present but did not prevent the injury, occupants were often exposed to loading centered farther forward on the vehicle than in the IIHS test. Around 40% of the far-side occupants were injured from contact with the struck-side interior structure, and almost all of these cases were more severe than the IIHS test. The remaining far-side occupants were mostly elderly and sustained injury from the center console, instrument panel, or seat belt. In addition, many far-side occupants were likely out of position due to events preceding the side impact and/or being unbelted.
Conclusion: Individual changes to the IIHS side impact test have the potential to reduce the number of serious injuries in real-world crashes. These include impacting the vehicle farther forward (relevant to 28% of all cases studied), greater test severity (17%), the inclusion of far-side occupants (9%), and more restrictive injury criteria (9%). Combinations of these changes could be more effective.

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