New Luxury Cars: Bright and Shiny and Unsafe?

Some say that money can buy happiness. That may or may not be true, but if the results of the most recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests on luxury vehicles is accurate, it can't always buy safety. The tests measured the performance of several of the country's most renowned luxury vehicles in a particular type of front-impact crash, and, surprisingly, some of the most recognized and respected luxury brands performed poorly.

How Was This Test Different?

This test was a modified version of the traditional front-impact crash simulation. The standard front-impact (i.e. "head-on") crash test involves striking an immovable barrier (representing common impact sites like other vehicles, trees, guardrails, etc.) with at least 40 percent of the car's bumper. That test engages nearly all of a vehicle's comprehensive safety features, including airbags, steel supports and "crumple zones" that are meant to absorb the force of an impact.

The new test, however, simulates a particular type of common front-impact crash, a "small overlap impact." A small overlap impact is one that involves approximately a quarter or less of the vehicle's bumper striking another object. Those crashes foil the operation of many of a car's safety features because the force of the impact cannot disperse effectively, instead being centered on the direct spot of the collision. When the force of an accident - particularly one at a high rate of speed - is channeled into a small portion of the vehicle's frame, several negative results can occur.

One common result of a small overlap impact crash is that the front tire will be shoved backward into the passenger area of the vehicle. If that happens, then either the driver or passenger's feet can become severely injured, sometimes requiring amputation. Severe injuries can also affect the occupant's legs and hips.

Another danger associated with a small overlap impact crash is that the vehicle could go into a spin. If the car spins out of control, airbags are much less effective. This is because the passengers are jerked around before coming into contact with airbags, meaning that they can strike parts of the vehicle that are not cushioned like seat backs, armrests, personal items and even other occupants.

How Did Luxury Cars Perform?

Several of the country's notable luxury cars, including the Mercedes-Benz C Class, Lexus IS, Lexus ES and Audi A4, all received "poor" scores in the test, meaning that they offered little protection to the driver of the vehicle in a small overlap impact crash. Other well-known models like the Acura TSX, BMW 3-Series, Volkswagen CC and Lincoln MKZ rated a "marginal" score, meaning that they offered some safety protection but not as much as would be needed to fully protect the driver.

The IIHS is not actually responsible for setting the standards of automobile safety in America. For that reason, vehicle manufacturers are not required to change their designs to incorporate safety features highlighted by IIHS tests. However, the IIHS is an influential group whose simulated tests have been a driving force behind automaker safety updates for years. If you or a loved one has been injured in a small overlap impact crash - or any other kind of motor vehicle accident - seek the advice of a skilled personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your options.