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Fall 2008 | Vol. 11 | No. 3
Crash Test Field Trip
GHSA recently joined several other Washington, DC area highway safety organizations for a visit to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to touring the facility and learning about the evolution of vehicle safety testing, the group was able to witness an actual side impact crash test in IIHS's state-of-the-art testing facility.
IIHS Senior Vice President Stephen Oesch began the tour by explaining how the Institute performs crash tests to incentivize car manufacturers to compete on the issue of safety, rather than style or speed. He pointed out several vehicles on display in the main hall, illustrating the three main types of crashes that IIHS tests: offset frontal impact, side impact, and rear impact. Vehicles with good crash ratings were better able to maintain the structural integrity of their safety cage.
While Oesch noted that car manufacturers have made great progress in recent decades by adding more passive safety features such as side impact airbags, he pointed out the benefits of more recently introduced active safety features, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC helps reduce run-offthe- road crashes by automatically balancing the load of the vehicle. Oesch also discussed collision mitigation systems that can automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of a crash-or even prevent a crash altogether.
Despite their potential, new technology also present challenges to the car manufacturers, who must make sure the technology is installed properly and does not dramatically increase the cost of the vehicle. Advanced safety features also have the potential to negatively affect drivers' behavior. For example, drivers may begin to drive less safely and instead rely on the vehicle's sensors to keep them safe. IIHS has been studying the pros and cons of a variety of new safety features and will continue to examine their potential to reduce crashes.
The tour culminated with a visit to the crash test site, where the group observed a side impact crash of a Genesis, Hyundai's luxury make. While the car appeared to have stood up to the crash fairly well, IIHS staff must spend time analyzing various data before assigning an official rank to the vehicle. Regardless, it was humbling to see the amount of damage that 33 miles per hour could do.
IIHS welcomes visitors to its Vehicle Research Center throughout the year, and GHSA recommends checking it out. For more information, visit www.iihs.org/ratings/vrc/default.html.