The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has introduced a new crash test and added a new Top Safety Pick+ rating, giving automakers a new goal to aim for when it comes to car safety.
This is the first new crash test for the IIHS since 1995 and it is called the small overlap crash test. It joins the moderate overlap front, side, rollover, and rear crash tests to give the IIHS five overall crash tests in its ratings. The new test is designed to simulate an impact with a pole, tree, or another offset vehicle.
Cars have built-in crumple zones in the front and rear designed to buckle on impact and spread out much of the incoming energy, which keeps occupants inside the cabin safe. These zones are tested in the existing moderate overlap front and rear crash tests respectively. However, what happens if there is a frontal crash that misses this zone and hits a different part of the frame? Those impacts are exactly what the new small overlap test is designed to account for. These crashes are particularly dangerous because they miss most of the safety structure.
In the small overlap front test, the car is crashed at 40 mph into a barrier that only slightly overlaps the front of the car on impact and misses the crumple zones. Crashes like these put a lot of stress on the vehicle's pillars and frame, especially around the fenders and the front doors. See below for a visual difference between the moderate overlap and the small overlap crash tests (left: moderate, right: small).
New crash tests like these are important for a couple reasons. First, you want to know that you and your family will be safe in any new car that you buy. Secondly, new crash tests encourage innovation which will lead to safer cars for all as they scramble to adjust to the new ratings.
Cars that perform well in the new small overlap test, in addition to the other tests, are eligible for the new Top Safety Pick+ rating. Cars that previously won Top Safety Pick awards will keep those awards, but will get a separate rating based on their performance in the new test.
The IIHS has been doing testing for several months now and a handful of cars have qualified for Top Safety Pick+ awards. They are:
*2013 models unless indicated