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By Jim Adler July 24, 2015

Recent tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) highlight front-end crash dangers for four of seven midsize SUVs from the model year 2015. The IIHS, a non-profit insurance industry group, has been conducting these tests annually since 2012 to simulate crash scenarios and ascertain risks for drivers and passengers that may be involved in a front-end collision.

The latest tests involved having 25% of a vehicle’s front end hitting a barrier at 40 miles per hour, comparable to hitting an object such as another vehicle or a utility pole. The institute says its IIHS tests are more demanding of vehicles than the federal government’s own frontal crash tests.

Federal front-end crash tests involve only head-on crashes, in which the vehicle is more equipped to manage crash energy by absorbing it with the main structures of its front-end crush zone. The IIHS’s “small overlap test” of only one-fourth of the vehicle’s front end puts the crash energy in a smaller, more confined space.

Vehicles with limited ability to absorb such small overlap crashes can have their occupant compartment collapse as a result, the IIHS says, causing serious injuries.

By showing automakers inherent front-end collision dangers in their vehicles, the IIHS hopes to encourage redesigns to make them more crash-resistant and safe. The IIHS says manufacturers have responded in two ways since its small overlap testing began in 2012.

First, without making a full overhaul, auto manufacturers have implemented small modifications to enhance their vehicles’ front structure and to improve airbags. Second, when models are redesigned, automakers have taken the tests into account for redesigns.

David Zuby, Chief Research Officer for the IIHS, says Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler “have had some successes” with redesigned models after responding to IIHS test results, but still “haven’t done much in the way of interim improvements.”

Nissan’s redesigned 2015 Murano performs best among current SUVs in providing small overlap crash protection. Its driver space had a maximum intrusion of five inches at the lower door’s hinge pillar, and its side curtain airbag deployed with enough forward coverage to protect a crash test dummy’s head from contacting the side structure or outside objects. The vehicle’s roof strength also was improved.

Dodge Journey Gets Poor Rating

The IIHS ratings range from “poor” to “good.” The worst-performing SUV was Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge Journey, which received a “poor” rating. The IIHS found a passenger compartment did not hold up in a crash, a side airbag did not inflate and its parking brake pedal tore through a crash-test dummy’s lower left leg.

A “good” rating (the highest) went to the Nissan Murano and the Jeep Wrangler four-door, while the Ford Flex was deemed “acceptable,” the second highest rating. The Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango all received “marginal” ratings.

The IIHS also awards a “Top Safety Pick Plus” distinction, meaning it received “good” ratings in four crash tests, received a “good” or “acceptable” rating in an overlap test and had a front crash prevention system, designed to brake the vehicle if the vehicle detects a front-end collision is imminent. The Nissan Murano received the distinction in 2015, and the Toyota Highlander received it in 2014. The Chevy Equinox, GMC Terrain, Nissan Pathfinder and Kia Sorento all earned the slightly lower “Top Safety Pick” rating in 2014.

The Ford Flex, which was awarded a “Top Safety Pick” in 2015, lacks the front crash prevention system, which is why it didn’t share in the Pick Plus award. The Jeep Wrangler fell short of the 2015 Pick Plus rating because it had only “marginal” rear- and side-crash protection. It also lacked a fixed roof, the IIHS said, which means its protection would be compromised in an SUV rollover accident.

In response to these tests, Fiat Chrysler pronounced that all of its vehicles meet or exceed federal safety standards. However, the IIHS calls it a “classic example of poor small overlap protection.” Intrusion into the occupant compartment measured as much as nine inches at the instrument panel and at the parking brake pedal, which is why it tore through the crash test dummy’s lower left leg. Also, the side curtain airbag did not deploy, making the dummy’s head vulnerable to contacting outside objects and the side structure.

SUV Rollover Danger

As these crash tests show, Texas drivers in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and elsewhere should be aware that SUVs can be dangerous beyond driver errors. And one such danger is an SUV rollover.

Not only do these vehicles have front-end crash design defects, as the IIHS study showed, but SUV rollovers are unfortunately common due to the fact that SUVs have a higher center of gravity and a more narrow wheel base than many vehicles. These design flaws contribute to a rollover accident, especially when a driver exceeds safe driving speeds or makes a sudden change in direction.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2005, the average SUV involved in a single-vehicle accident was up to two times as likely to roll over compared to a passenger car (23% chance of rollover compared to 10%). To address this potentially devastating situation, the administration also provides its own federal NHTSA ratings specifically for SUV rollovers.

Fortunately, SUV rollover accidents have declined in recent years with the advent of electronic stability control (ESC), a computer system that enhances vehicle control during abrupt moves or moves on a slippery surface. An ESC also helps prevent sideways skids, which can lead to rollovers.

The IIHS says rollovers of vehicles with an ESC “tend to be less severe,” meaning fewer turns. They also often involve initial impacts with other vehicles, which the ESC can’t prevent.

The IIHS concludes that ESC systems reduce the likelihood of fatal single-vehicle rollover crashes by 77-80%. Along with more stable designs, ESC systems have helped reduce rollover fatalities from 27 deaths to 8 deaths per 1 million vehicles that are one to three years old. However, despite these technological advances, design defects and rollovers remain a real threat for many vehicles.

Car Wreck Lawsuit

If a loved one in your home was injured by such a defect in an SUV accident, notify Jim Adler & Associates today for a free case review to explore your legal options for a possible lawsuit.

For 40 years, our personal injury law firm has helped thousands of Texans get payments they were legally due after suffering injuries due to someone else’s negligence. When it comes to auto design defects, that “someone else” is an auto manufacturer.

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