– By Michael Hancock
Every year, side impact crashes are responsible for approximately 25 percent of vehicle passenger deaths in the United States. These crashes most commonly occur at intersections when one motor vehicle enters the lane of another. Unfortunately, when a vehicle is struck broadside, the occupants are extremely vulnerable to injury.
Less Protection in Side Impact Crashes
Of course, front and rear end collisions can also result in occupant injury or death. However, side-impact crashes present a unique safety threat. In front or rear end crashes, large areas of vehicle mass provide crumple zones that can disperse the energy of a violent collision, providing a protective barrier for drivers and passengers. In side-impact crashes, on the other hand, a thin vehicle door or window is often all that is between occupants and the other vehicle.
Side Impact Crash Testing
Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conduct crash tests simulating side-impact accidents.
While the NHTSA tests record data for head injuries (the most prevalent type of serious injury resulting from side-impacts), only chest injury risk figures into the government’s publicly disseminated “star” safety rating. Furthermore, NHTSA tests primarily utilize dummies sized to correspond to an average adult male, and use bumper height and weight impacts that approximate those of a passenger car.
The IIHS attempts to bridge these gaps by conducting testing with dummies the size of a child or small woman (women are more likely than men to experience serious head injuries in side-impacts since the heads of drivers with a shorter stature are closer to bumper-height) and by simulating impacts with taller vehicles, like SUVs and pickups.
When the IIHS first began its side-impact testing program in 2003, only one out of every five vehicles was able to earn a “good” rating; most others were rated “poor” (drivers in vehicles rated “good” are 70 percent less likely to be killed in a left-side collision compared to those in vehicles rated “poor”). Since then, improvements in the integration of airbags with stronger structural components have led to significantly higher ratings.
Airbags Are No Guarantee
Both the NHTSA and the IIHS warn that simply having side airbags is not enough to ensure driver protection: airbags must function in harmony with improved occupant compartments, and even in vehicles with high safety ratings crashes often involve serious injuries.
If you have been injured in a side-impact collision, get in touch with a personal injury attorney today. You may be entitled to compensation for a variety of losses, including medical bills, wages lost due to an inability to work and property damage.
Side-impacts are a real threat to driver safety, but with the proper help, you can be on your way back to a more normal life after suffering a severe injury.