Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Wikis


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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a U.S. non-profit organization funded by auto insurers. It works to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, and the rate of injuries and amount of property damage in the crashes that still occur. It carries out research and produces ratings for popular passenger vehicles as well as for certain consumer products such as child car booster seats.[1]



The IIHS uses four ratings for each category, "Good" (best, green G), "Acceptable" (yellow A), "Marginal" (orange M), and "Poor" (worst, red P).


Frontal offset impact test

The Institute's front crash test differs from that of the American government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program in that its tests are offset. This test exposes 40% of the front of the vehicle to an impact with a deformable barrier at approximately 40 mph (64 km/h). Because only 40% of the vehicle's front must stand the impact, it shows the structural strength better than the NHTSA's full-width testing does. Many real-life frontal impacts are offset. However the NHTSA's full frontal crash tests result in the occupant compartment going through greater deceleration. The full frontal crash test is more suitable for evaluating restraint systems such as seat belts and airbags.

The IIHS and NHTSA tests can differ wildly. For example, the NHTSA graded the Chevrolet Venture (also marketed as Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana/TransSport) as 4/5 stars, but the IIHS graded it "Poor" for its poor structural integrity which becomes apparent in the offset crash test, which that minivan was considered the "Worst Performer" in the IIHS offset frontal crash tests. The same applies for the 1997–2003 Ford F-150.

The IIHS evaluates six individual categories assigning each a "Good", "Acceptable", "Marginal", or "Poor" rating before determining the vehicle's overall frontal impact score. [2]

  • It is important to note as with the NHTSA's frontal impact test, vehicles across different weight categories may not be directly compared. This is because the heavier vehicle is generally considered to have an advantage if it encounters a lighter vehicle. The IIHS demonstrated this crashing midsize sedans with three smaller Good rated compact cars. All three compact cars fared poorly and rated "Poor".[3]

Side impact test

Compared to the NHTSA test rig, which simulates the impact from the front end of a passenger car, the taller IIHS test rig simulates the impact of an sport utility vehicle (approximately half of all new cars sold) into the side of the vehicle being tested. This is a very demanding test of both the vehicle's structural integrity and its restraint systems (airbags, seat belts, etc.). While most new vehicles achieve 4–5 stars from the NHTSA (where head injuries are not part of the rating), many do not score well in the IIHS side impact test.

The IIHS assigns the same "Good", "Acceptable", "Marginal", or "Poor" ratings to nine categories before deciding the vehicle's overall frontal impact score.

Rear crash protection/head restraint ratings

This test uses the vehicle's seat in order to determine the effectiveness of the head restraints.[4] The driver's seat is placed on a sled to mimic rear end collisions at 20 mph. Rear end collisions at low to moderate speeds typically do not result in serious injuries but they are common.[5] In 2005 the IIHS estimated 25% of medical costs were related to whiplash injuries.

Roof strength evaluation

In the United States rollovers accounted for nearly 25% of passenger vehicle fatalities. Features such as electronic stability control are proven to significantly reduce rollovers and lane departure warning systems may also help. Rollover sensing side curtain airbags also help to minimize injuries in the event of a rollover.[6] In March 2009 the IIHS began testing the roof strength of vehicles on certain vehicles.

Top Safety Pick Award

The Top Safety Pick is an annual award to the safest cars of the year. In order to receive a Top Safety Pick the vehicle must receive "Good" overall marks in the front and side impact tests, as well as a "Good" overall rating based on the driver's seat head restraint design. Electronic Stability Control must also be at least optional. The winning vehicles for 2009 can be found here. Past winners can be found on the IIHS web site.[7]


The IIHS has come under scrutiny on several occasions since the 1980s over what some consider unfair bias toward certain vehicle types, namely some small pickups and certain types of motorcycles. Since the IIHS first-and-foremost represents the interests of the 80 insurance companies from which it receives its funding, critics such as the American Motorcyclist Association have suggested that the IIHS sometimes seeks to influence legislation aimed at making insurance companies more profitable, rather than benefitting the public interest.[8]

In 1980, the IIHS helped 60 Minutes produce a report slamming the Jeep CJ in which a superhumanly capable robot apparatus was used to put the vehicles through 435 unrealistic test runs to get 8 rollovers.[9]

The IIHS released a report in 2007 suggesting that certain types of motorcycles be either banned or restricted from use on public roads, specifically sportbikes, after lumping together several different types of non-sport motorbikes into makeshift categories, allegedly to skew the crash data in favor of its argument. The 2007 report mirrored a similar IIHS study released in 1987, which was claimed by the IIHS to be based on findings in the famous Hurt Report motorcycle crash study, and which was used to influence U.S. Sen. John Danforth into proposing a law that would have mandated horsepower limits for bikes sold in America. Dr. Hugh H. (“Harry”) Hurt, Jr., the noted author of the Hurt Report, called the 1987 IIHS study "sloppy" and "fatally flawed".[10]

Citing its similarities to the 1987 report, AMA called the 2007 IIHS report "...a bike classification shell game". An AMA news release stated: "We beat the IIHS sportbike ban [in 1987], and we even got Sen. Danforth on our side, saying that he recognized that the AMA had the constituent interest in motorcycle safety and that his IIHS-backed bill was a 'dead-end street.'".[11]

Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, said of the 2007 report: "This kind of flawed report, passed off as scientific research, has the potential to do great damage. At the very least, it can create false perceptions we’ll have to fight for years. And at worst, it could lead to restrictive laws that have no basis in reality.”.[12]


External links


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