BMW 5 series earns Top Safety Pick+

ARLINGTON, Va. — The redesigned BMW 5 series offers good protection in a small overlap front crash, in contrast to the previous generation of the large luxury car, which didn't hold up well during the small overlap test.

ARLINGTON, Va. — The redesigned BMW 5 series offers good protection in a small overlap front crash, in contrast to the previous generation of the large luxury car, which didn't hold up well during the small overlap test.

The 2017 5 series qualifies for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ award, thanks to across-the-board good crashworthiness, an optional front crash prevention system with a superior rating, and available good-rated headlights.

In the small overlap test of the 2017 model, the driver space was maintained well, with maximum intrusion of 5 inches at the footrest. The airbags and safety belt worked well together to control the dummy's movement, and measures taken from the dummy indicated a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash of the same severity.

In contrast, when the earlier model was tested, maximum intrusion reached 12 inches at the footrest, and the steering column was pushed back 3 inches toward the driver. Measures taken from the dummy indicated that injuries to the left lower leg would be likely in a real-world crash, with possible injuries to the left foot as well.

In order to earn the 2017 Top Safety Pick+ award, a vehicle must have good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as an available front crash prevention system with an advanced or superior rating and headlights that earn an acceptable or good rating.

The 2017 5 series has two different optional front crash prevention systems, both earning a superior rating. In IIHS track tests, cars equipped with each system avoided collisions at 12 mph and 25 mph.

The 5 series also has two different headlight systems available. The headlights that come with the optional lighting or premium package earn a good rating, while the standard ones are rated marginal.

Read more: BMW 5 series earns Top Safety Pick+

IIHS tests side underride guard

A car was run into the side of a tractor-trailer to demonstrate the danger of side underride. In the second crash shown, the trailer had a side underride guard, which prevented the worst damage.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Strong underride guards on the rear of tractor-trailers have proven effective in preventing underride in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Now, new IIHS tests show how a well-built guard can prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding beneath the side of a semitrailer.

The tests conducted this spring mark the first time that IIHS has evaluated a side underride guard. IIHS ran two 35-mph crash tests: one with an AngelWing side underride protection device from Airflow Deflector Inc. and a second test with a fiberglass side skirt intended to improve aerodynamics, not to prevent underride. The results were dramatically different.

In both tests, a midsize car struck the center of a 53-foot-long dry van trailer. In the AngelWing test, the underride guard bent but didn't allow the car to go underneath the trailer, so the car's airbags and safety belt could properly restrain the test dummy in the driver seat. In the second test with no underride guard for protection, the car ran into the trailer and kept going. The impact sheared off part of the roof, and the sedan became wedged beneath the trailer. In a real-world crash like this, any occupants in the car would likely sustain fatal injuries.

The Institute has been testing rear underride guards for several years. In March, IIHS announced the first winners of the new TOUGHGUARD award recognizing rear underride guards designed to prevent underride in a range of crashes into the backs of tractor-trailers. So far, five North American semitrailer manufacturers have qualified for the award.

The Institute has been testing rear underride guards for several years. In March, IIHS announced the first winners of the new TOUGHGUARD award recognizing rear underride guards designed to prevent underride in a range of crashes into the backs of tractor-trailers. So far, five North American semitrailer manufacturers have qualified for the award.


The AngelWing side guard stopped the car from going underneath the trailer.

Angelwing

Without a side underride guard, the car in the second 35 mph test lodged beneath the trailer.

No side guard


The latest tests illustrate the importance of countermeasures to prevent side underride crashes, too. In 2015, 301 of the 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes with a tractor-trailer died when their vehicles struck the side of a tractor-trailer. This compares with the 292 people who died when their passenger vehicles struck the rear of a tractor-trailer. Because of gaps in federal crash data, IIHS researchers can't determine exactly how many of these crashes involve underride, but they estimate that underride occurs in about half of fatal crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles.

A 2012 IIHS study found that strong side underride guards have the potential to reduce injury risk in about three-fourths of large truck side crashes producing a fatality or serious injury to a passenger vehicle occupant. This proportion increased to almost 90 percent when restricted to crashes with semitrailers.

Federal law requires large trucks to have rear underride guards but not side underride guards. At least three U.S. cities — Boston, New York and Seattle — mandate side guards on city-owned and/or contracted trucks as part of Vision Zero initiatives to eliminate crash deaths and injuries, particularly among pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Our tests and research show that side underride guards have the potential to save lives," says David Zuby, the Institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "We think a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads."

The wheels on a tractor and trailer offer some underride protection if a passenger vehicle were to strike them. With no side underride guard, only 28 percent of a 53-foot trailer's length would be protected from underride. With the AngelWing side underride guard in place, 62 percent of the trailer's length would be protected. Side underride guards can be retrofitted to existing semitrailers.

"With the rise of injuries and fatalities due to truck crashes, along with the need for greener technologies, Airflow Deflector's AngelWing side underride guards are an integral part of a long-term eco-friendly and cost-effective safety strategy that will benefit the public at large," says Robert Martineau, president of Airflow Deflector.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2-vehicle crashes with tractor-trailers

Year Passenger vehicle strikes side of tractor-trailer Passenger vehicle strikes rear of tractor-trailer All crashes with tractor-trailers
2005 441 258 1,932
2006 394 260 1,853
2007 417 218 1,771
2008 290 180 1,526
2009 269 174 1,237
2010 319 181 1,417
2011 246 189 1,362
2012 306 216 1,376
2013 274 213 1,377
2014 308 220 1,409
2015 301 292 1,542

Read more: IIHS tests side underride guard

IIHS launches Facebook page

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has for decades been a trusted source of information about ways to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage from crashes. Now IIHS is bringing that sought-after knowledge to a new medium by launching a Facebook page.

"Facebook is one of our top referring sites, as the news media and the public share our research," says Russ Rader, IIHS senior vice president for communications. "We hope to enhance that reach by introducing an official page that adds to our existing social media presence on Twitter and YouTube."

The IIHS website remains the definitive repository for the Institute's information, including comprehensive vehicle ratings, fatality statistics, Q&As on key highway safety issues and the archive of the IIHS newsletter, Status Report.

The IIHS Facebook page can be found at facebook.com/iihs.org. The Twitter handle is @IIHS_autosafety. The IIHS YouTube channel can be found at youtube.com/user/iihs.

Read more: IIHS launches Facebook page

Most midsize SUV headlights are marginal or poor

ARLINGTON, Va. — New midsize SUV ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that headlights are improving when it comes to visibility, but many still need to do a better job of lighting the road ahead while limiting bothersome glare.

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2017 Volvo XC60 are the only models available with good-rated headlights among the 19 midsize SUVs and 18 midsize luxury SUVs evaluated in this new round of tests. Twelve SUVs are available with headlights rated acceptable, while 23 aren't available with anything other than marginal- or poor-rated headlights.

This is the fourth group of vehicles IIHS has evaluated since launching headlight ratings in 2016.

"As a group, midsize SUV headlights perform slightly better than the other SUVs and pickups we evaluated last year, and that's encouraging," says IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matt Brumbelow. "Still, we continue to see headlights that compromise safety because they only provide a short view down the road at night."

Since few consumers test drive a vehicle at night before buying, IIHS headlight ratings help shed light on this basic, yet essential crash avoidance technology. Nighttime visibility is critical to highway safety because about half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or at dawn or dusk. Differences in bulb type, headlight technology and even something as basic as how the lights are aimed all affect the amount of useful light supplied. Properly aimed low beams light up the road ahead without temporarily blinding drivers of oncoming vehicles.

In the Institute's evaluations, engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle's low beams and high beams as the vehicle travels straight and on curves. Glare for oncoming vehicles also is measured from low beams in each scenario to make sure it isn't excessive.

Headlights can vary by trim line, so vehicles often come with multiple headlight variants. The 37 SUVs that IIHS evaluated have 79 possible headlight combinations.

Most headlights use one of three different light sources: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED. Each of these can be paired with either reflectors or projector lenses. Projector headlights use one lens to spread the light out, while reflectors have multiple surfaces that bounce the light forward. All the good- and acceptable-rated headlight variants in this group of midsize SUVs have projector lenses, and the three good-rated headlight variants are HID. That said, having HIDs and/or projector lenses doesn't guarantee good or acceptable performance in IIHS evaluations.

The XC60 is available with optional curve-adaptive HID projector headlights, which earn the top rating. Curve-adaptive headlights swivel with the steering wheel to better illuminate bends in the road. The XC60's HID headlights also can be purchased with optional high-beam assist, which helps increase high-beam use by automatically switching between high beams and low beams depending on the presence of other vehicles. Models equipped with high-beam assist earn extra credit in IIHS ratings. Consumers who want the good-rated HID headlights on the XC60 need to buy the Advanced package or the Active Dual Xenon Headlights package.

One of the worst midsize SUVs for visibility is the Kia Sorento. The Sorento's curve-adaptive HID projector low beams fail to provide adequate visibility on the straightaway, left curves and the gradual right curve. On the right side of the straightaway, for example, the Sorento's low beams only illuminate 148 feet, compared with 315 feet for the XC60's low beams.

The Ford Edge is another poor performer. The Edge's base halogen projector and optional HID projector low beams provide inadequate visibility in all test scenarios, including the straightaway, on sharp curves and on gradual curves. The high beams on both versions have inadequate visibility, too. Both types of the Edge's low beams also produce unacceptable glare. The halogen low beams, for example, put more light in the eyes of oncoming drivers on a straightaway than on the left side of the road.

When headlights produce a lot of glare, it doesn't necessarily mean they do a good job lighting up the road for that vehicle's driver. When equipped with halogen projector headlights, the Edge and the Buick Envision would rate poor based on either glare or visibility alone.

More than half of the 79 headlight variants evaluated have too much glare. In 17 of those cases, the headlights would be rated poor based on glare alone. Complaints about glare from oncoming headlights are common, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates.

"Managing glare can be more challenging for taller vehicles like SUVs and pickups because their headlights are mounted higher than on cars," Brumbelow says. "Better aim at the factory can minimize glare."

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport's optional curve-adaptive HID projector low beams have the most downgrades for glare among the midsize SUVs evaluated. The other two available headlight packages also create excessive glare, and all three are rated poor.

In contrast, glare isn't a problem for either of the headlight packages on the Hyundai Santa Fe, which is a distinct model from the Santa Fe Sport and has different headlight designs. The curve-adaptive HID projector headlights with high-beam assist, part of the Tech Package, earn a good rating. The Santa Fe's base halogen headlights earn a poor rating because of inadequate visibility.

The best available headlights on two midsize SUVs made slight improvements over earlier tests IIHS conducted as part of nominations for a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick award. The Nissan Pathfinder's LED headlights and the Volvo XC90's adaptive LEDs improved to marginal from poor. Those changes weren't enough to boost the two Top Safety Pick winners to the higher award category. Vehicles need good- or acceptable-rated headlights to qualify for a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ award.

Headlight ratings

Best available headlight system for each model
2017 models unless specified


Headlight ratings

Best available headlight system for each model
2017 models unless specified

Luxury SUVs

Good

Acceptable Marginal Poor

Nonluxury SUVs

Good Acceptable Marginal Poor

Read more: Most midsize SUV headlights are marginal or poor

Stronger economy means higher death rate

The risk of dying in a crash in a late-model vehicle has gone up slightly, as a stronger economy has led drivers to take to the road more often and in more dangerous ways. Meanwhile, a new study predicts traffic deaths will fall only slightly over the coming years, given current expectations for the economy.

The overall rate of driver deaths for 2014 models is 30 per million registered vehicle years, up from 28 for 2011 models (see "Saving lives: Improved vehicle designs bring down death rates," Jan. 29, 2015). The death rate for individual vehicles varies widely, from 0 for 11 vehicles to 104 per million registered vehicle years for the Hyundai Accent, a minicar.

The overall rate of driver deaths for 2014 models is 30 per million registered vehicle years, up from 28 for 2011 models. The death rate for individual vehicles varies widely, from 0 for 11 vehicles to 104 per million registered vehicle years for the Hyundai Accent, a minicar.

The last time IIHS calculated driver death rates, the overall rate had fallen by more than a third over three years. Researchers found that the drop was driven largely by improved vehicle designs and safety technology. Such improvements have continued, but the new results show that, by themselves, they won't be enough to eliminate traffic deaths.

"Vehicles continue to improve, performing better and better in crash tests," says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. "The latest driver death rates show there is a limit to how much these changes can accomplish without other kinds of efforts."

The new driver death rates are based on deaths that occurred during 2012-15. The increase in the overall driver death rate for 2014 models is likely connected to the increased number of fatalities toward the end of that period.

Falling unemployment, rising crash deaths

Road deaths have been trending downward since the early 1970s, with an especially large dip beginning in 2008. However, that changed in 2015, with deaths increasing 7 percent over the previous year. Preliminary data indicate the toll increased in 2016 as well. In the new study, Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services, looked at what economic forecasts can tell us about traffic fatalities over the coming years.

An increase in traffic deaths is a predictable downside to an improving economy. As unemployment falls, both vehicle miles traveled and crash deaths increase (see "Stronger economy can be bad news for highway safety," Dec. 10, 2015). In a stronger economy, people tend to drive more. Riskier, discretionary driving — for example, going out to dinner or traveling for vacation — is affected by economic fluctuations even more than day-to-day commuting. Economic conditions also affect how fast people drive.

An increase in traffic deaths is a predictable downside to an improving economy. As unemployment falls, both vehicle miles traveled and crash deaths increase. In a stronger economy, people tend to drive more. Riskier, discretionary driving — for example, going out to dinner or traveling for vacation — is affected by economic fluctuations even more than day-to-day commuting. Economic conditions also affect how fast people drive.

To estimate how the annual death toll might change in the coming years, Farmer designed a statistical model based on the connection between traffic deaths and unemployment since 1990. The model also includes calendar year, thereby accounting for safer vehicle designs and other highway safety improvements that have taken hold over time.

Farmer found that a decline in the unemployment rate from 6 percent to 5 percent is associated with a 2 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled. That jump in exposure leads to an equivalent 2 percent jump in fatalities. However, after accounting for the change in miles traveled, the decline in the unemployment rate is associated with an additional 2 percent increase in road deaths. In other words, only half of the effect of an improved economy on traffic deaths is due to increased driving.   

Given the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' forecast of a 1.7 percent annual reduction in unemployment from 2014 to 2024, he predicts that the recent increase in deaths will have peaked in 2016 and estimates there will be approximately 34,400 traffic deaths in 2024, compared with 35,092 in 2015.

If unemployment doesn't change as predicted but remains steady at the 2016 rate of 4.9 percent, there will be 33,600 traffic deaths, Farmer estimates. In either case, the projected
number of crash deaths for 2024 is still higher than the 32,744 deaths seen in 2014.

The recent surge in crash avoidance technologies, along with the development of autonomous vehicles that in theory could eliminate all crashes, has the potential to bring down crash rates. However, it will take decades before such technologies are present in all new vehicles. Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will be sharing the road with conventional vehicles for some time (see Status Report special issue: autonomous vehicles, Nov. 10, 2016).

The recent surge in crash avoidance technologies, along with the development of autonomous vehicles that in theory could eliminate all crashes, has the potential to bring down crash rates. However, it will take decades before such technologies are present in all new vehicles. Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will be sharing the road with conventional vehicles for some time.

"Improvements in vehicle technology are important, but we also need to address old problems such as speeding and driving while impaired," Farmer points out.

U.S. crash deaths and predictions of model based on unemployment, 1990-2024

Tiny vehicles, high death rates

As in the past, the driver death rates show that the smallest vehicles are the most dangerous ones. Among the 10 vehicles with the highest rates, five are minicars and three are small cars. These vehicles don't protect occupants as well as larger ones, so their presence at the top of the "worst" list isn't surprising.

Among vehicle categories, 4-door minicars have the highest overall death rate of 87, while 4-wheel-drive large luxury SUVs have the lowest with 6.

Despite the increase in the overall rate, the worst vehicles actually saw some improvement. The 2014 Hyundai Accent's death rate of 104 compares with 120 for the 2011 Accent. The worst vehicle among the 2011 models was the Kia Rio with a rate of 149. The 2014 Rio's death rate is 102. Both models were redesigned in 2012, and their lower death rates may reflect the better crash-test performance of the newer designs.

IIHS has been publishing death rates per registered vehicle year by make and model since 1989 (see Status Report special issue: death rates, Nov. 25, 1989). The rates include only driver deaths because all vehicles on the road have drivers, while not all of them have passengers or the same number of passengers. Fatality counts are taken from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and registration data are from IHS Automotive. The calculated rates are adjusted for driver age and gender.

IIHS has been publishing death rates per registered vehicle year by make and model since 1989. The rates include only driver deaths because all vehicles on the road have drivers, while not all of them have passengers or the same number of passengers. Fatality counts are taken from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and registration data are from IHS Automotive.  The calculated rates are adjusted for driver age and gender.

Although the numbers reflect 2014 models, data from earlier models as far back as 2011 are included if the vehicles weren't substantially redesigned before 2014. Including older, equivalent vehicles increases the exposure and thus the reliability of the results. To be included, a vehicle must have had at least 100,000 registered vehicle years of exposure during 2012-15 or at least 20 deaths. 

See complete driver death rates by make and model on our desktop site.
Driver death rates by vehicle style and size
2014 and equivalent earlier models, 2012-15
  Overall driver deaths
per million registered vehicle years
Multiple-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
rollovers
CARS 39 24 15 5
4-DOOR        
mini 87 59 27 11
small 43 29 13 4
midsize 39 24 14 5
large 38 19 20 7
2-DOOR        
mini 36 20 17 13
small 48 26 22 12
midsize 31 15 17 4
large 80 45 34 15
SPORTS        
midsize 54 24 31 12
large 49 23 26 10
LUXURY        
midsize 17 7 10 2
large 19 9 11 6
very large 20 13 7 0
STATION WAGONS        
mini 61 38 23 11
small 38 24 15 4
midsize 16 12 3 1
MINIVANS 19 13 6 2
SUVs 21 12 8 4
4-WHEEL DRIVE        
small 22 14 7 3
midsize 16 7 9 5
large 21 11 9 2
very large 30 18 11 5
2-WHEEL DRIVE        
small 29 18 10 4
midsize 29 20 9 4
large 22 11 12 6
very large 16 16 0 0
4-WHEEL DRIVE LUXURY        
small 8 8 0 0
midsize 7 5 2 1
large 6 5 1 1
very large 18 9 9 0
2-WHEEL DRIVE LUXURY        
midsize 13 9 4 1
PICKUPS 26 14 13 6
4-WHEEL DRIVE        
small 22 8 14 5
large 27 15 13 5
very large 27 12 16 9
2-WHEEL DRIVE        
small 24 14 11 4
large 25 16 9 3
very large 28 17 12 9
Lowest rates of driver deaths
Fewer than 8 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years,
2014 and equivalent earlier models, 2012-15
      Overall driver deaths per million
registered vehicle years
Multiple-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
rollovers
Audi A6 4WD luxury car large 0 0 0 0
Audi Q7 4WD luxury SUV large 0 0 0 0
BMW 535i/is 2WD luxury car large 0 0 0 0
BMW 535xi 4WD luxury car large 0 0 0 0
Jeep Cherokee 4WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Lexus CT 200h luxury car midsize 0 0 0 0
Lexus RX 350 2WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Mazda CX-9 2WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Toyota Tacoma Double Cab long bed 4WD pickup small 0 0 0 0
Volkswagen Tiguan 2WD SUV small 0 0 0 0
Lexus RX 350 4WD luxury SUV midsize 2 2 0 0
Ford Explorer 4WD SUV midsize 4 3 1 0
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan 2WD luxury car large 4 0 4 4
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan 4WD luxury car large 5 5 0 0
Audi Q5 4WD luxury SUV midsize 7 4 4 0
Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD SUV very large 7 7 0 0
Chevrolet Volt 4-door car small 7 7 0 0
Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class 4WD luxury SUV midsize 7 7 0 0
Nissan Pathfinder 4WD luxury SUV midsize 7 0 7 7
Toyota Venza 4WD SUV midsize 7 7 0 0
2WD: 2-wheel drive; 4WD: 4-wheel drive
highest rates of driver deaths
More than 58 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years,
2014 and equivalent earlier models, 2012-15
      Overall driver deaths per million
registered vehicle years
Multiple-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
rollovers
Hyundai Accent sedan 4-door car mini 104 71 33 22
Kia Rio sedan 4-door car mini 102 80 16 5
Scion tC 2-door car small 101 46 58 27
Chevrolet Spark 4-door car mini 96 69 27 18
Nissan Versa 4-door car mini 95 61 35 14
Ford Fiesta sedan 4-door car mini 83 57 25 4
Kia Soul station wagon small 82 58 26 17
Dodge Challenger 2-door car large 81 51 29 7
Nissan Titan Crew Cab short bed 4WD pickup large 73 15 62 30
Nissan Sentra 4-door car small 72 45 25 9
Ford Focus sedan 4-door car small 68 50 15 5
Chrysler 200 4-door car midsize 67 42 24 11
Hyundai Genesis coupe 2-door car midsize 67 19 49 12
Ford Fiesta station wagon mini 63 36 30 10
Hyundai Accent station wagon mini 63 47 14 14
Mitsubishi Lancer 2WD 4-door car small 63 53 6 6
Volkswagen Golf 4-door car small 63 63 0 0
Chevrolet Impala 4-door car large 60 38 21 7
Dodge Avenger 2WD 4-door car midsize 60 41 20 7
Ford Mustang convertible sports car midsize 60 50 6 0
Nissan Maxima 4-door car midsize 59 40 17 5
2WD: 2-wheel drive; 4WD: 4-wheel drive

Read more: Stronger economy means higher death rate

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