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New frontal offset crash protection proving a difficult engineering challenge

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Honda Civic was the only one out of a group of small cars to get a "good" rating on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small overlap front crash test. 

The safety group gives cars a "good, acceptable, marginal, or poor" rating for how well a car protects drivers and passengers in different kinds of crashes.

The small overlap situation happens when just the front corner of a car near the headlight hits something, so the force of the impact is not absorbed by the front bumper, engine and hood.

That makes it a major engineering challenge to fix, says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"It's difficult to band-aid a vehicle to do better on this kind of test," says Rader.  "It typically is going to require a redesign."

Honda engineers reinforced the safety cage that protects occupants with high-strength steel, and made sure the seat belt and side and front air bags worked in concert to create a "survival space" for small overlap crashes.

The Insurance Institute has also put groups of midsize luxury sedans, small SUVs and midsize family sedans through the new test.  The group  of midsize family sedans performed the best as a group, but about half of small SUVs and luxury sedans were rated marginal or poor.

Rader says despite the engineering difficulty, it's important for car companies to do better.

That's because, of the 9,000 fatalities in frontal crashes each year, about 25% are small overlap types of accidents.

Here's the marks given to each vehicle tested:

  • Honda Civic, four and two-door:  Good
  • Dodge Dart, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Scion tC: Acceptable
  • Chevy Sonic, Chevy Cruze, VW Beetle: Marginal
  • Nissan Sentra, Kia Soul, Kia Forte: Poor


Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.