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Crash Study Looks at Side Airbags, Vehicle Structure

By Liz Opsitnik
Wednesday, Jan 19 2011 15:05

If you're driving a vehicle that performs well in side-impact crash tests, you're less likely to die in an actual accident, according to a new study released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS only looked at passenger vehicles with side airbags. The study's conclusion is that a driver of a vehicle rated good for driver protection in a side impact is 70 percent less likely to die in a left-side crash compared with a driver of a vehicle rated poor. A driver of a vehicle rated acceptable is 64 percent less likely to die, and a driver of a vehicle rated marginal is 49 percent less likely to die.

"This was our first look at how our ratings correlate with actual crash data since we started side tests in 2003, and the numbers confirm that these are meaningful ratings," Institute Chief Research Officer David Zuby said in a statement. "Vehicles with good side ratings provide occupants with far more protection than vehicles that do poorly in our test."

Click here for an IIHS side-impact video.

The IIHS says that the study's results are similar to front crash studies. Drivers of vehicles with good ratings in the IIHS' frontal offset crash test are much less likely to die in frontal crashes.

Currently, 78 percent of vehicle designs that have been tested by the IIHS have good side ratings, compared with only about a third of vehicles tested in the program's first two years.

The IIHS says its research over the years has shown how important side airbags are in protecting the driver, and no vehicle without head-protecting side airbags has ever earned a good rating. The Institute found that a vehicle's structure rating was by far the best predictor of fatality risk in a side-impact crash.

"We knew that our ratings would encourage manufacturers to add head-protecting side airbags, which would save lives," Zuby said. "It's great to see that other aspects of our evaluation, such as encouraging strong side structures, resulted in so much additional protection."

If safety is an important factor in your car buying research, you can search the IIHS' database on its site to see which vehicles have the highest crash test ratings. Higher safety ratings may lower your auto insurance costs as well.

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