Cars are safer than they used to be, no doubt about it. All cars now being manufactured include frontal airbags, and almost all include some type of side airbags. But, the extent of side impact protection varies greatly, which is what NHTSA is attempting to address with the Standard No. 214 Side Impact Protection Rule.
The purpose of this standard, phasing in through 2012, is to reduce the risk of serious and fatal injury to occupants of passenger cars, trucks and buses in side impacts by specifying strength requirements for side doors, and setting out minimal guidelines for manufacturers to meet with respect to limiting the forces, deflections and accelerations measured on test dummies in test crashes. The agency anticipates that manufacturers will meet the standard by modifying existing side impact air bags and curtains, and possibly supplementing them with advanced glazing or other means.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that such safety equipment is “increasingly standard” with ninety-two percent of 2011 model cars, 94 percent of SUVs, and 56 percent of pickups now having standard head and torso side airbags.
Side-impact passenger vehicle crashes are often severe, and the unfortunate reality is that automakers have long been aware of the benefits of side airbags to prevent the catastrophic head and brain injuries that are often seen. Internal carmaker documents disclosed over the years show how the automotive industry was testing and validating the effectiveness of these side airbag bag systems back in the mid-90’s, and, by 1998 independent testing by both Swedish researchers from Volvo and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had reported upon the protective capacities of these occupant safety systems in minimizing the potential for head injuries.
This being true, and knowing that the automotive industry has long been aware of this common sense safety concern, the question must be asked why the industry failed to move faster over the past decade to incorporate these proven life-saving systems into all vehicles to minimize and prevent catastrophic or fatal head injuries in such crashes. As consumers, this is a safety issue that must be understood and appreciated as we buy, rent or travel in vehicles that may not incorporate these life saving technologies.