Side-Impact Car Crash Fatalities and Recent Car Safety Improvements

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Side-impact crashes cause a quarter of all traffic fatalities in the United States. In 2010, there were 261 fatal traffic accidents in New York City. The city does not keep statistics on side-impact crash rates but, assuming the national average is true for Manhattan, an estimated 65 of the 261 fatal accidents were side-impact crashes.

Side-Impact Crash Safety Improvements

Side-impact crashes are often deadly because the side of a vehicle provides less structural protection to occupants than the hood or trunk of a car. New safety improvements in vehicles over the past few years, including side airbags and stronger side structures, helped increase side-impact crash ratings of vehicles.

Side airbags are now standard in new vehicles to improve safety in side-impact car crashes. For example, a family-sized sedan made in 2005 without side airbags may have received a poor rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but a later model of the same sedan with side airbags may earn a good rating.

Determining Side-Impact Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts side-impact crash tests using dummies the size of average men and rates vehicles on a one to five-star scale.

A five-star rating means that drivers and passengers in a vehicle involved in a side-impact crash have a five percent or less chance of being seriously injured, whereas occupants of a vehicle with a one-star rating have a 26 percent or greater chance of being seriously injured.

The IIHS also conducts side-impact crash tests and rates vehicles on their ability to protect occupants from left side-impact crashes using a scale from good to poor. The IIHS uses crash dummies the size of small women since women are more likely than men to suffer head injuries in side-impact crashes.

Like the NHTSA, the IIHS measures injuries to the heads, necks, chests and pelvises of the dummies as well as injuries to their abdomens and femurs. A good rating from the IIHS means that occupants are 70 percent less likely to die than occupants in a poorly-rated vehicle.

Consumers use side-impact crash ratings to help choose safer vehicles. Even in a vehicle with a good rating, however, a severe side-impact crash can cause serious injury. If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.