A new crash test that involves making a driver carry large dummy in a moving vehicle was given to small SUVs and cars this year in an effort to force automakers to develop more safe vehicles.
For years, some of the latest safety features, such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, have been available in smaller cars but not in popular small SUVs. Those vehicles, still popular with younger consumers, tend to have smaller compartments and lower ceilings than the larger SUVs.
The small SUVs also have lower overall body structure to fit in tighter spaces. That makes them more likely to roll over, and driving the large dummy in the small cars could make it more likely.
That’s what happened in the latest test.
The three small SUVs tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had different levels of damage when a dummy was dragged behind the car and slammed into its back end. The Dodge Journey, which has a loaded base price starting at $21,045, was the only car to get a poor rating, while the Jeep Compass had the worst rating of acceptable. The Subaru Forester had the second-worst rating of acceptable. The overall body structure was the most damaged in the four cars tested.
The Impact Crash Model for 2018 takes the small SUV to the limit, according to the institute, which promotes safety.
Small SUVs were the most commonly injured vehicles in U.S. crashes in 2015, according to the latest data from the government. In addition, compact cars are the most commonly involved in crashes where the driver loses control. Last year, 2,379 people died in crashes involving small compact cars, the institute said. And nearly 19 percent of all crashes on U.S. roads in 2016 involved small cars. The road tests are designed to determine the safety value of a new or upcoming vehicle.
The tests are a result of pressure from the government and insurers to increase safety from new technologies and vehicle designs.
Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz will be offering a different type of small car in Europe in 2018, the E-Class I-Class, which has larger side air bags and sensors designed to warn when people are leaning too far into their seats. In the U.S., the test results aren’t expected to change any vehicle design or development. “Our vehicles always achieve top scores, and there are no plans for changes,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of the Edmunds.com car shopping website.
Still, the tests have caught the attention of automakers and the government.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety co-produces a government-mandated “small overlap” crash test that targets what is known as the most common cause of severe injuries in frontal crashes. In that test, vehicles with four or five of the same size. Two sensors detect when the driver is sitting too far forward in his or her seat, sending a signal that a collision is imminent.
The government first started allowing small SUVs in that test in 2016. But the new test was designed to make it harder for vehicles to pass. The test will continue to include small and midsize SUVs in 2019.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety runs its own crash tests, including the small overlap test, but has recently been raising the bar when it comes to protecting the driver, passengers and occupants in all crashes.
The institute also has added front and side impact tests that take in more of the front crash structure. The institute began imposing tough new requirements on vehicle ratings in 2016, for the third time.
The new test was selected at the request of the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Council for Occupant Protection.
The Consumer Federation of America said it wanted to make the small SUV test more intense.
“With recent crashes involving a dummy sitting inside one of these light vehicles, the implicit message is clear: small vehicles just aren’t built for passengers who need support,” said Executive Director Jim Henry.
Though the driver needs support to get into a small SUV, researchers found several times when they drag a dummy into a small SUV that it gets into the smaller SUV.
The top score, the institute’s highest rating, is acceptable. The only car to get the top rating, in the previous test, was the Chevrolet Cruze.
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This story has been corrected to show that Smartwatches, instead of Smartphones, have sensors that detect when a person leans into their seat.