The institute's new side crash test, which will begin in 2020, has been designed to better simulate a real-world scenario. - Photo courtesy of IIHS.

The institute's new side crash test, which will begin in 2020, has been designed to better simulate a real-world scenario.

Photo courtesy of IIHS.

Engineers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are developing a new side crash test with a higher impact speed and a heavier, more realistic movable barrier representing today's striking vehicles.

The Institute plans to launch the test next year as a replacement for its side crash test introduced in 2013.

Despite overwhelmingly good ratings for today's vehicles, people continue to die in side crashes. Side impacts accounted for 23% of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2018.

IIHS engineers questioned whether the current side test measures the right things. They conducted an analysis and determined what aspects of the current evaluation work well. Measures collected from the test were found to correlate closely with fatality risk. Because of this, the new test will likely use the same dummies and collect similar information as the current one.

The analysis also identified things that should change. For example, IIHS engineers looked at side crashes in good-rated vehicles that resulted in deaths or serious injuries. That study showed that many of those crashes were more severe than the IIHS test and also had a more forward impact location.

The severity of a side crash depends on both the weight of the striking vehicle and its speed. The movable barrier currently used in the IIHS side test weighs 3,300 pounds. At the time the test began, many SUVs on the road were close to that weight, but they have gotten much heavier since then.

To better reflect the higher-severity crashes occurring in the real world, IIHS engineers began a series of research tests at a higher speed — 37 mph instead of the 31 mph speed used in the current side rating test. They also made the movable barrier heavier, increasing its weight to nearly 4,200 pounds, the average weight of a 2019 model SUV.

The process of developing the ideal test continues with the goal of optimizing the test conditions to match today’s vehicles and driving circumstances.

"Our goal is to create a barrier that creates the same type of damage as a typical late-model SUV or pickup would in a 37 mph crash," said Becky Mueller, IIHS senior research engineer. "That way, we can be confident that the changes automakers make in hopes of achieving good ratings in the new side test will result in better protection for vehicle occupants in real-world crashes."

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