CrashworthinessPosted on: June 6, 2020
In the state of Florida, the three year average for car crashes between 2016 and 2018 was 400,599, according to information provided by the department of Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Of those accidents, nearly half involved some kind of injury, serious or otherwise, and only about 1% amounted to fatalities. FHSMV data also indicated that where drivers and passengers were wearing some kind of a shoulder or lap belt, there were very few injuries, which indicates just a small part of this term, crashworthiness.
Crashworthiness, for a vehicle, means the level to which it can keep its occupants safe from harm during an unexpected impact. Every vehicle manufacturer knows that their cars will be ranked highly and ultimately purchased by those who believe they are safe to drive, which fits with the goal of good business. But these standards for crashworthiness, for rating vehicles according to safety, were not always there.
LARSEN VS GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, 1967
On February 18, 1964, Norman Larsen, was injured during a head-on collision and the entire steering column of his 1963 Corvair was dislodged, striking him in the head. Three years later, in a suit against General Motors where Larsen was the plaintiff, he alleged the following:
…the defendant was negligent in its design and engineering of the Corvair and also that the defendant breached both an express warranty and the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for the purpose for which the vehicle was intended.
While the court did state the obvious, that cars were not originally designed for collisions, it was also incumbent upon the car manufacturers to take “reasonable care” to ensure their vehicles are equipped for the “inevitable” realities of automobile use and potential collisions. Larsen won his case, was compensated for his injuries, and so began the work of all subsequent car manufacturers to run regular crashworthiness tests for the betterment and the safety of every driver to follow.
HOW IS CRASHWORTHINESS MEASURED?
In the beginning, before the case of Norman Larsen, the term “crashworthiness” was applied to military and aircraft vehicles outside the realm of normal road use. But in the aftermath of the General Motors case, it was the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that took over a good deal of this assessment. The IIHS, which began in 1959 under the three most popular insurance companies at the time, has had as its mission a dedication “to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from motor vehicle crashes.”
When IIHS takes time to assess a vehicle, they conduct the following six crashworthiness tests on various risk points at speeds of 40mph.
- Moderate Overlap Front
- Driver Side Small Overlap Front
- Passenger Side Small Overlap Front
- Roof Strength
- Head Restraints and Seats
According to IIHS, the first three tests are of the highest value in ranking crashworthiness because a frontal accident is the most frequent cause for fatalities. And generally speaking, IIHS is looking to see how quickly and in what capacity seat belts and air bags are doing what they were designed to do, in terms of safety.
The NHTSA runs a similar set of Vehicle Safety Ratings tests at a slightly slower speed (35mph), evaluating crashes that include a fixed barrier and focus on three main areas of attention: frontal impact, side scenarios, and rollover resistance. Deep within this effort to ensure vehicle manufacturers are held accountable, the NHTSA is also committed to studying and addressing matters of child safety.
A renewed emphasis on child safety is underway as data show that motor vehicle crashes are the primary cause of death for children 4 and older. Currently, NHTSA has been conducting research on the protection of children in side impact crashes. Much of that research has focused on the protection offered by child restraint systems (CRS). Additional research efforts are underway investigating the injuries resulting from rear interior components and surfaces to determine whether there is a need to increase the protection of rear-seat occupants.
All of which should lead us to ask whether the vehicles we’re driving actually meet the standards we have come to expect and how they stack up against the vehicles we might choose to drive, if only we knew.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY OTHER CRASHWORTHINESS LAWSUITS SINCE LARSEN?
Absolutely. You may wonder why there are so many unexpected recalls, with manufacturers sending you a letter in the mail, indicating that your car was built with a faulty screw or a faulty wire. It isn’t that car companies aren’t focused on crashworthiness. It’s that car companies, and the people who drive their vehicles, are always finding flaws.
For example, after the death of Louise Florence in 2018 accident in the State of Iowa, her family filed a wrongful death suit, citing negligence on the part of Chrysler and liability for “lack of crashworthiness,” alleging that the vehicle should have had a more reasonable driver side impact protection so as to protect from fatal injuries, such as those incurred by Louise. A similar case popped up the year before that, in 2017, with a claim against General Motors for not ensuring that the Chevy Cobalt met the five principles of crashworthiness.
SO HOW IS THE CRASHWORTHINESS OF THE CAR I DRIVE?
Before we attempt to answer even part of that question, knowing that it would be impossible to address the crashworthiness of every single vehicle in this article, here is a search function you can use to find out how your car ranks in the Vehicle Safety Ratings with the NHTSA as well as the IIHS. And frankly, it might be worth it to see how your vehicle stacks up in both cases, to look for the discrepancies between the two.
In the meantime, here are the top three crashworthy vehicles of 2020, each of them designed, ranked, and praised for their ability to keep you and your family safe on the road, according to a list provided by US News & World Report.
1. 2020 Toyota Camry
Not only did the 2020 Toyota Camry receive a “perfect score” with NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Ratings, but it comes equipped with some pretty modern safety features. For example, the Camry includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, using radar waves to detect a certain kind of shape ahead and apply automatic braking in the off chance that a driver is, God forbid, driving distracted. The Camry also includes a Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist where lanes are clearly marked and Blind Spot Monitoring.
2. 2020 Honda Insight
In 2019, IIHS ranked the 2020 Honda Insight as the Top Safety Pick and the NHTSA still gives it a five star rating. Meeting all those crashworthiness standards across the two most respected institutions, the Insight also includes similar features to the Camry, such as a Collision Mitigation Braking System and a Road Departure Mitigation System.
3. Kia Optima
In addition to earning a perfect rating with NHTSA, five out of five, and a Good rating on all six crash tests with IIHS, manufacturers of the 2020 Kia Optima have emphasized a little more than their fancy gadgets. Kia emphasizes the work they’ve invested into the structure, control, and braking. For example, the Optima is built on Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) that increases rigidity for the body of the car while being supported by a Traction Control System (TCS) that minimizes that spin that your wheels often get on acceleration, sometimes leading drivers in rainy weather to hydroplane.
Understanding that our vehicles and the manufacturers who build them are supposed to be held to a high standard of crashworthiness, that they should be built to withstand a certain level of impact, is a big reason why accident fatalities only make up 1% of the crashes people experience within those three miles of home. But similar to the recent cases in 2017 and 2018, where certain fatalities may have occurred as a result of poor standards of crashworthiness, our role is to step in where others have not yet been held accountable.