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IIHS to make side-impact test more extreme

The current test replicates lighter 3,300-pound trucks and SUVs that were sold more than a decade ago.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced plans to update its side-crash test to better reflect the changes in vehicle weight over the years.

The institute added the side-crash scenario to its standard evaluations in 2003 to address shortcomings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration test, which "doesn't reflect the much greater risk of head injury from impacts with taller vehicles." The IIHS impact uses a movable barrier that better replicates the front end of a typical SUV or pickup, while dummies representing small women or 12-year-old kids meant the vehicle would be struck at the height of the dummies' heads.

"The improvements translated into lives saved," the IIHS says. "A 2011 study of 10 years' worth of crash data found that a driver of a vehicle rated good is 70 percent less likely to die in a left-side crash than a driver of a vehicle rated poor."

The barrier currently weighs 3,300 pounds, around the average weight of SUVs that arrived on the market in the era that the test was introduced. Times have changed, however, and trucks and SUVs are now much heavier.

The IIHS has conducted research tests at higher speeds, hitting the car at 37 mph instead of 31 mph, with barrier weight increasing to nearly 4,200 pounds to align with the average weight of a 2019-model-year SUV. The tests also included actual vehicle-to-vehicle impacts.

The higher speed and weight equate to 82 percent higher crash energy than the current test, while the vehicle-to-vehicle crashes uncovered a tendency for the test vehicle to roll into an actual SUV instead of away from the moveable barrier.

"The structural damage also differed," the IIHS adds. "The frame rails -- the stiffest part of a vehicle front -- of the striking vehicles punched into the middle of the struck vehicle's doors, wrapping around the B-pillar."

IIHS engineers are now experimenting with changes to the barrier's honeycomb face to better replicate the interactions in real-world crashes involving late-model SUVs striking another vehicle's side.

The institute has not announced a time-frame for introducing the more extreme side-impact test.

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