The IIHS and Their Testing Procedures: A Primer

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The big news of the week regarding the 2015 Ford F-150 surely has to be the disparity in crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) between a SuperCrew F-150 and a SuperCab F-150. In the company’s infamous small overlap test, the SuperCrew scored the highest rating, while the SuperCab scored the second lowest rating.

But who are the IIHS, and does their testing matter? Additionally, does a company benefit from a higher score, and do they design vehicles around the test?

Unlike the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the IIHS is a private organization that collects crash test data. They’re funded by the insurance companies and follow different testing procedures than NHTSA.

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Personally, I tend to put more stock in the results from the IIHS over the results from NHTSA. The IIHS has a vested interested in determining which vehicles are safer, since they are tasked to do so by insurance companies that use this information to calculate rates. At the extreme level, the people IIHS serve are more affected by serious crash injuries than NHTSA. I believe the IIHS testing is more difficult and the higher scores more difficult to achieve.

The IIHS is also constantly updating their procedures. I recently with an executive at a major auto maker who told me that it’s more difficult to prepare for IIHS testing than NHTSA testing. When NHTSA decides they want to change the way a test is performed, there’s often advanced notice sent to all the manufacturers. The IIHS often doesn’t give the automakers much time from saying they’re going to change the test to when they actually test with the new standards.

The challenge for the IIHS is to keep their crash tests relevant. It’s important for the company to simulate real-world crashes, not only to collect accurate data but also because manufacturers consider this test when constructing their vehicles.

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IIHS crash data often makes the national news, and you don’t want to be the manufacturer who received a Marginal rating when everyone else in your class received a Good. It’s a public relations nightmare if your car doesn’t score well.

As a result, manufacturers build safer vehicles designed to score well in those tests. So those tests need to be an accurate reflection of real-world crashes, or they become irrelevant and don’t advance public safety.

The tests are also moving targets because the IIHS expects improvements in safety. A vehicle that received a Good rating today, if completely unchanged in design for 10 years, wouldn’t receive a Good rating tested 10 years from now. It means manufacturers must be continuously improving safety.

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Without a doubt, manufacturers design vehicles to perform well in the IIHS crash tests. So why did the F-150 SuperCrew do so well, and the SuperCrew not as well? There are rumors and speculation, and I’ll address that in a future post. Be sure to stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, let us know what you think about the IIHS and their crash testing procedures over in the forums!

Chad Kirchner is a regular contributor to Corvette Forum and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other auto sites.

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