Do NHTSA Vehicle Safety Rating Affect Side Impact Crash Outcomes?

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Journal of Safety Research



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Introduction: Side impact crash injuries tend to be severe, mainly due to the effects of the mechanism of such crashes. This study addresses the relationship between side impact crash injury severities and side impact safety ratings of the passenger cars involved in such crashes. It is motivated by the lack of research on side impact safety ratings in relation to the real-world crash outcomes. Method: Analysis of Crashworthiness Data System’s (CDS) data show the head and thorax are the most common regions of impact of severe injuries, while the neck is the least. Irrespective of body regions, higher-rated vehicles were found to provide better occupant protection to both younger and older driver age groups. Assessment based on injury severity score (ISS) indicates that higher-rated vehicles have an overall lower average ISS compared to lower-rated vehicles. Results: Ultimately, this study shows that vehicles rated with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) new criteria had lower average ISS compared to vehicles rated under the old criteria. The 2011 NHTSA side impact rating criteria being relatively new, it has very few crashes to draw meaningful statistically significant conclusions. However, this paper establishes the fact that vehicles with higher star ratings (under experimental conditions) indeed offer increased occupant protection in the field conditions. Practical applications: Previous studies have found that safety was given priority while buying new vehicles. However, people associated vehicle safety with technologies and specific safety features rather than the vehicle’s crash test results or ratings (Koppel, Charlton, Fildes, & Fitzharris, 2008). The results from this study provide a point of reference for safety advocates to educate the drivers about the importance of considering vehicle safety ratings during a vehicle purchase.


Side impact crashes; NHTSA rating; Vehicle safety; Injury severity score; NASS CDS


Operational Research | Risk Analysis | Transportation Engineering



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