With that in mind, the Insurance Institute can help. It regularly looks at each vehicle’s performance based on high-speed front and side crash tests, and rollovers, and it evaluates seat and head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear-impact collisions. Based on how a car performs the Institute assigns a rating of “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal,” or “poor.”
The Institute (www.iihs.org) looks at twelve categories of vehicles, starting with mini-cars, such as the Honda Fit and ramping up to large luxury vehicles, such as the Cadillac CTS and Lincoln MKS. Minivans, pickups, and SUVs are tested as well.
The Terrain, for instance, rated “good” when it came to front- and side-impact tests and “good” in roof-strength testing. Measurements for frontal collisions looked at driver- and side-occupant compartment intrusion protection, while side-impact results were based on damage to the vehicle and injury to the driver and passenger.
Among the hundreds of other vehicles that have been tested, there are a few surprises. The Hummer H3 looks to be as sturdy as Fort Knox, but the 2006 -2010 models garnered no more than an “acceptable” rating in both front-end and side-impact tests. Meanwhile, the tiny little Ford Fiesta got “good” ratings for front, side, and roof strength ratings. Wonder how well those two would match up in a freeway tangle?
Besides the current model year, the Institute presents results that date to the mid-1990s. These are helpful if you’re in the market for a used vehicle, since they show, for instance, that the Chrysler Town & Country minivan got “acceptable or below” ratings before 2008 but has scored as “good” every year since then.
Consumer Reports also tests cars and trucks and is widely respected. It offers a few twists on safety measurements, such as “the best cars to buy your kids that cost less than $12,000.” Here, top picks include: the Acura TSX, 2004-later; Ford Focus sedan, 2009-later; Hyundai Sonata, 2006-later; and Volkswagen Jetta, 2007-later.
Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) says “must-haves for teens” include: ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), and curtain air bags. Further, the vehicles should perform well in crash tests, “as well as in our dynamic tests, such as accident avoidance, braking, and handling.” Hmmm? That sounds like sound advice for mom’s car, too!
Whether on their own or under prodding by regulators and consumers, automakers have sharply boosted safety levels. While a record 54,000 people died on America’s roadways in 1972, that dreadful statistic had dropped to under 33,000 by 2010, even though Americans drive vastly more miles these days.
Vehicle deaths per miles driven are now at all-time lows. Let’s encourage Detroit to keep lowering that bar. Though driving is a privilege, not a right, safe cars should be a right and not a privilege!