IS IT SAFE?
IS IT SAFE?
Horrifyingly, the new crash test known as the ‘small overlap’ done by the good guys at IIHS shows the weakest link of most cars on the road or on sale today. So, is there a solution to all of this mess? Yes, there is.
by KEEGAN DORAI
Six airbags, a collapsible steering column, autonomous braking and the list goes on.
It feels like a candy store padded with pillows at the sharp edges with an in-house diabetes specialist to give you that surety that you won’t go overboard with sugar. In reality, they’re just there to assure you well enough at surface when you end up in a nasty crash.
Everyone is going apocalyptically jovial when they know they have the most up to date in post-crash safety features. But it doesn’t matter anymore if you’re seated in a car filled with these cushiony stuffs. What’s really important is how well your vehicle is designed to absorb a certain crash without crumpling its way into the cabin. That could be a nasty sight.
So before you sign that paper off, think again. To date, there’s a new crash test technique introduced, and it’s known as the ‘Small Overlap’ test. With the introduction of this new assessment, it opened the eyes of consumers worldwide and subsequently sending all manufacturers running back to the drawing board to get this ordeal sorted out. It shows that even crashing into a pole, tree or any dividers from the most frontal side of your car can prove how deadly it can be.
"These are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that," said Adrian Lund, the President of the IIHS institute. "Most automakers design their vehicles to ace our moderate overlap frontal test and NHTSA's full-width frontal test, but the problem of small overlap crashes hasn't been addressed. We hope our new rating program will change that.”
In this small overlap test, only 25 percent of the car’s front end on the driver side takes on a 1.5-metre tall rigid barrier at 64km/h. The test is designed to show what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or even a typical road divider; be it left-hand or right-hand drive. Not all manufacturers have conducted a test like this — spare that for Volvo, unsurprisingly, some Honda models, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru.
In the small overlap crash test, it mainly affects the vehicle’s outer edges, particularly the side of the front end. Significantly, this is among the weakest areas in a car and its not well protected by any inner crush-zone structures. Upon impact, it forces the front wheel, suspension and dangerous engine parts into the lower end and extreme-side of the firewall, which results in serious leg, head, foot and chest injuries.
In transition, the frontal, side and curtain airbags must inflate in position and must not swerve away from the head and chest of the frontal occupants. Crashes such as this have a higher tendency of moving the entire dashboard (steering wheel included) away and crushing the A-pillar inwards into the cabin due to the excessive impact.
Cars that aren’t well executed will suffer questionable structural intrusion, where the driver will miss a direct contact into the airbag prior impact and hitting directly into the left side of the dashboard instead. Worst of all, the driver’s head could even end up hitting the deformed A-pillar severely as well.
Side curtain airbags and torso airbags are designed to deploy in side impacts, but they can be beneficial in small overlap frontal crashes as well. If they do deploy, curtain airbags also need to extend far enough forward to protect the head from contact with side structures or any foreign objects.
The key to protection in any crash is a strong safety cage that resists deformation to retain an adequate survival space for occupants. The structural integrity of any car relies on their design formation and durability. If it deforms there on, then it enables the vehicle’s restraint systems to do their part in cushioning the occupants in the event of a crash.
2014 vs 2016 Volvo XC90
The problem lies due to the lack of a crash-absorbing structure to support the frontal-side of the car. Upon crashing in a small overlap test, these cars have either suffered from a short front-end crash-absorbing structure, which isn’t long enough to counter a minimal overlap crash, or comes with a poorly designed front-end crash absorbing structure to resist all excessive pressure into the A-pillar and the firewall.
To further improve and protect occupants during a small overlap crash, most manufacturers have called for two useful solutions — where one involves by extending the front crash structure or reinforcing crumple zones — and another by redesigning the suspension to absorb impact (acting as a wedge to absorb energy), which then breaks away from the vehicle.
With the latter, the wheels will come off after the impact. And that’s significantly needed as its absence will prevent it from crushing the drivers footwell. Passengers could suffer the same fate as the driver as well. So don’t be thanking your lucky stars just yet.
It works for now, fortunately. Cars that are being introduced after 2015 are seeing increased ratings in crash worthiness. Some vehicles are still performing pretty poorly in this chapter, but makers are playing the ‘a replacement is due soon’ card in order to improve a successor to face this extremely difficult test.
Still, do think twice before unwrapping that yummy sandwich, or replying that text while at the wheel. Unless if you’re looking forward to see your leg being pierced by that footbrake rod, or getting stuck inside even though you’re physically alright.