Road safety: Some crash tests are only used for marketing


Some crash tests are only used for marketing

Road safety: Some crash tests are only used for marketing-tests

Crash test dummies usually do not have a life of their own, but are measuring instruments that register the stress on the human body during accident simulations. For this would be unethical norms ideal.

Source: Volvo / cs bi

The more stars in the crash test, the safer the car. One should think so. But car buyers cannot always rely on test results. In some tests, something else is in the foreground.

E.t was Thursday, September 10, 1959, when the test vehicle 110/4 set off on its last business trip on the grounds of the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen. Driven by a winch, the limousine hit a rigid obstacle. A memorable event: It was the first frontal crash test of a newly developed car.

Impact tests with complete vehicles were still pioneering at the time; today they are part of the day-to-day business of car manufacturers. Mercedes crashes around 500 prototypes and pre-production models every year, at VW in Wolfsburg even up to 700 impact tests take place every year.

The great effort is required to prepare new models for the multitude of safety tests that apply worldwide. These tests are carried out by government agencies for the official registration of cars as well as by consumer protection organizations and insurance companies.

However, the various testing institutes are by no means in agreement. Each has its own test regulations, which even contradict each other in detail and therefore often confront the engineers with conflicting goals when designing the body.

Different countries, different test procedures

A manufacturer that sells its models worldwide quickly finds itself in a dilemma. Audi specialist Armin Gotz says, for example: "There are more than 50 crash test types that differ from one another in terms of impact speed, impact direction, impact barrier and dummy technology."

One of the most important test procedures is now the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which started exactly 15 years ago in Europe and has since been adopted by five other countries and regions. In addition to the Euro NCAP, there are also test programs for Australia, Korea, Japan and Latin America as well as two different test procedures for the USA.

Disagreement among global auditors

The aim of this rating process is to attract car buyers "a realistic and independent assessment of the safety features of some of the best-selling vehicles" it means to give. Independence is guaranteed, because in addition to European governments and the EU Commission, automobile clubs and consumer organizations also work on the safety ratings.

On the other hand, there is a lack of agreement among the worldwide NCAP examiners. Because every organization has its own regulations. For example, Euro NCAP drives the side impact at 50 km / h and three test dummies, while in Korea 55 km / h and only one dummy is required.

In Europe, the mobile test barrier in a side crash has to weigh 950 kilograms, in the USA, however, one test institute stipulates 1368 kilograms, and the other testing organization even stipulates 1500 kilograms. There are other differences in the size and type of dummies with which the loads are measured.

"Additional effort with no benefit for security"

Car companies that do not deliver their models to the USA or the Far East have an advantage here. You can adjust the cars specifically for Euro NCAP. "If certain types of accidents occur very frequently in individual regions, this should be taken into account in the NCAP programs", says VW spokesman Harthmuth Hoffmann.

"But if crash tests have to be carried out with minor differences, we clearly see the need for harmonization. Here, a significant additional effort in development does not lead to any additional benefit in terms of vehicle safety."

Mind you: the NCAP tests are voluntary. They are not required for the official registration of the cars in the various countries and regions. There are other, mostly simpler regulations for this.

Nevertheless, all companies participate in the NCAP procedure. The reason: The test results are an important marketing tool – but only if the top grade is awarded: five stars.

The number of five-star cars is to be reduced

But almost every new model in the Euro NCAP now achieves this result: of the 20 compact cars tested in the past two years, all vehicles received the full number of points.

It is exactly the same in the middle class: six tests and six times the top rating since the beginning of 2011. In other words: The cars are all very safe in terms of the NCAP procedure.

That would actually be good news. But no sooner have car buyers got used to the star rating and manufacturers have adapted their development processes to it, than the crash organization announces a further tightening of the test criteria. That should reduce the number of five-star cars.

The discussion is about new crash tests, new crash barriers, new dummies, new child seats and stricter load limits for the occupants.

Audi spokesman Armin Gotz describes what these changes mean: "There is a possibility that a five-star vehicle tested in 2011 would only achieve a three-star result just because of the tightening in 2012. The security level of the model does not deteriorate as a result."

Many tests have nothing to do with reality

A lot of theory, but little use in practice – this is how other manufacturers also criticize the NCAP plans. "Modern vehicles have achieved such a high level of safety that additional requirements can no longer necessarily be shown in the accident statistics", says VW expert Harthmuth Hoffmann.

Therefore, in Wolfsburg, Euro NCAP is calling for effectiveness analyzes and "a roadmap that is consistently based on the accident situation". Only then can you get new cars "optimize in the right places".

But some tests are miles away from real accidents. For example, the US institute IIHS, which is financed by US insurance companies and part of the global NCAP organization, is planning a completely new frontal crash test that will only cause German safety experts to shake their heads.

There are seldom steel blocks on country roads

The test is intended to simulate a typical two-way traffic accident in which two cars collide in such a way that only a quarter of the front is hit. The crash passes the actual crumple zone.

Such a test is by no means unrealistic, because according to statistics, 20 percent of all frontal accidents are such grazing collisions. However, while cars collide with each other on country roads, the bodies of which absorb some of the energy, the US institute lets the test cars crash against an unyielding steel barrier at a speed of 64 km / h.

The impact force is therefore many times greater than in an actual head-on collision between two cars. This pushes the front wheel far into the interior, causing injuries that do not occur in practice in comparable accidents. No wonder: there are normally no 1.50 meter high steel blocks on country roads.

It is best to prevent an accident in advance

Despite all the criticism, the US institute is sticking to the unrealistic method. Automobile manufacturer that received the top IIHS rating in the USA "Top safety pick" want to get, have to come up with something.

"Because of this new test procedure alone, we will install additional reinforcement profiles that prevent the front wheel from penetrating the interior", is what Mercedes says. For real accidents, this does not bring any safety advantage.

In some other types of accidents, the additional supports are even problematic. One thing is also certain: the installation of additional steel profiles makes the cars heavier and consume more. Some rating crash testers lose their sense of reality and stick to procedures that are pointless.

There are reasonable suggestions for further improving security. But you don’t necessarily need more crash tests and airbags. "Over 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error", says Audi expert Armin Gotz. "Therefore, significant improvements in vehicle safety can only be achieved with active systems."

This refers to distance warning systems, emergency braking and lane keeping assistants that warn or even intervene themselves. According to a recent study by German insurers, if all cars were equipped with an emergency braking assistant, up to 43 percent of all accidents could be prevented.

The car manufacturers are reacting to this knowledge and are now also offering emergency braking assistants in compact cars, some even as standard. However, they are not yet rewarded with the star rating: Euro NCAP will only be awarding plus points for the installation of emergency braking systems in two years’ time.

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