Thinking Tech

Top IIHS auto safety ranks thinned by new roof crush test

Posting in Sustainability

The 2010 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cut its top picks for 2010 by two thirds as the result of a new rollover test that measures roof strength. Toyota did not have a single model on the list. Subaru was tops with five models rated best for crash-worthiness.

If you switched on your TV this morning, you couldn't miss the story that the ranks of 2010 top picks in auto crash safety from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have been depleted by a new rollover rating that measures roof strength.

The 2010 tops safety picks numbered 27 versus 93 last year. Surprisingly, Toyota did not have one model that earned a 2010 top pick rating. When the Today Show teased the segment this morning by saying you would not believe which car marker did not have any top safety picks, I though for sure it was Chrysler. Nope, it was Toyota, the largest car marker in the world for a while in 2009 and since passed by VW-Porsche.

On the other hand, Subaru cleaned up with five models on the list followed by Volvo, VW-Porsche and Chrysler with four each. I'm happy to hear some good news about Chrysler for a change. Other automakers had one or two models on the list except Toyota.

Think a larger car is safer? Well, only four made the list top picks list and three were American. Nary a Lexis, Acura or Infinity on the list. Overall, though, the IIHS says larger vehicles are safer than smaller ones.

Here's how the roof test is done.

"To measure roof strength, a metal plate is pushed against one corner of a vehicle's roof at a constant speed. The maximum force sustained by the roof before 5 inches of crush is compared to the vehicle's weight to find the strength-to-weight ratio. This is a good assessment of vehicle structural protection in rollover crashes," according to the IIHS.

The 2009-10 Nissan Cube at 2,833 pound curb weight withstood the most force on its roof before it caved in at 20,567 pounds for a strength-to-weigh ratio of 7.25. The Kia Sportage had one of the weakest roofs.

For its part, Toyota, already wracked by a dangerous stuck-accelerator problem in six popular models from 2004-07, hardly needed to get aced. In 2009, 10 Toyota models earned the top rating. On the Today Show, Toyota through a statement maintained its vehicles are safe, but I could not find its official response to the 2010 IIHS ratings on Google News or the news page on its web site.

The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers gave a qualified if not lukewam endorsement of the new roof test, but hedged. "Unfortunately, injuries can occur if there is minimal roof deformation after a crash. At other times vehicle occupants are unharmed even if there is significant roof deformation," the statement said.

Methinks that's beating around the bush. "You have a much better chance of surviving a rollover crash if the roof doesn't cave in on you," according to IIHS president Adrian Lund in the video below. I would agree.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure