Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conduct crash tests to determine specific vehicle model safety. Both sources should be considered by consumers when purchasing a new or late-model used vehicle. When it comes to setting auto insurance rates, it is the IIHS testing that the insurance companies use to determine your insurance premiums.
About the IIHS
The IIHS is wholly funded by numerous insurance companies ranging from smaller companies such as the Rockingham Group, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company and Grange Insurance to such household names as GEICO, State Farm and Allstate. Additional funding is provided by several insurance funding associations.
Founded in 1959, the IIHS is an independent, nonprofit educational and scientific organization whose mission is to reduce insurance losses from crashes on America’s roads. The IIHS opened its Vehicle Research Center in Virginia in 1992 where it conducts front, rear and side tests on vehicles and assigns a rating. The institute uses crash test dummies and sled labs for vehicle testing, and also tests child booster seats. Yes, the test scores can affect your insurance premiums (more about this later), but not your uninsured motorist claim.
Five IIHS Crash Tests
Since the IIHS began testing vehicles in 1992 it has modified and expanded its crash testing to encompass additional areas of the car. Its earlier tests measured moderate overlap front crashes as well as rear crash protection to assign a head restraint rating. Side-impact and roof strength tests were added later; a small overlap front test was added in 2012.
The IIHS’ moderate overlap frontal test has a vehicle traveling at 40 mph toward a barrier. The barrier face, of aluminum honeycomb construction, measures approximately two feet tall. Behind the wheel sits a crash test dummy, one that is equal in size to the average male driver. This test has 40 percent of the total width of the vehicle hitting the barrier on the driver’s side. It then measures the impact of the crash on the vehicle as well as on the driver.
The small overlap frontal test also has the vehicle traveling at 40 mph, with 25 percent of the vehicle required to hit a 5-foot rigid barrier, similar to a vehicle hitting a fixed object such as a telephone pole. The same sized crash test dummy used in the first test is used here with the IIHS paying especially close attention to how vehicle restraint systems such as airbags and the vehicle’s safety cage protect the driver.
A side test has been used by the IIHS since 2003, one that employs a moving barrier that weighs 3,300 pounds and corresponds to the weight of a small SUV hitting the driver’s side of the vehicle. Crash test dummies similar in size to an average sized female driver as well as a child sitting in the rear seat behind the driver are used. The IIHS also conducts a roof strength test that employs a metal spike that is pushed into one side of the top of the vehicle and is required to bear a force that is four times the vehicle’s weight before reaching five inches of crush to achieve a good rating. This test mimics what a vehicle might experience in a rollover accident, something that takes the lives of thousands of people annually.
Since 1995, the IIHS has been conducting rear crash testing with an eye toward measuring the impact of front seat vehicle restraints, particularly headrests. Whiplash injuries can be minimized with improved head protection, with this test approximating a rear end collision corresponding to a 20 mph crash against a stationary vehicle.
Assigning Ratings to Evaluated Vehicles
Car manufacturers strive to meet the highest crash test ratings offered by the IIHS. It is a two-tier rating system that gives vehicles either a “top safety pick” or “top safety pick+” rating, the latter assigned to vehicles that have completed the moderate overlap front test.
To achieve a top safety pick+ rating, vehicles must have received good ratings in four of the five tests and no less than an acceptable in the fifth test. A top safety pick designation is assigned to vehicles that receive good ratings in a rollover, rear, side, and moderate overlap front tests.
Four grades are assigned with each test: good, acceptable, marginal and poor. The IIHS maintains scoring for vehicles from its earliest test years and posts that information to its website.
Ratings and Your Insurance Premium
Your chances of being injured in an accident are far greater in a lighter vehicle. And that is why the IIHS advises consumers to “pass up very small, light vehicles” in its Shopping for a Safer Car brochure. Choosing vehicles that rank higher by the IIHS will result in lower insurance premiums. You can save additional money by opting for a higher deductible, bundling your home and car insurance policies, and searching for discounts.
Vehicle safety testing helps insurers and consumers alike. Insurers assign risk based on a number of factors including your vehicle’s crashworthiness. Save money on insurance and improve your chances of surviving an accident by buying a vehicle that has a top safety rating.
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