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Crash testing and safety experts hope drivers slow down

Safety features can be overwhelmed by speed
Crash testing and safety experts hope drivers slow down
Posted at 4:34 AM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 18:53:16-05

Consumer research is showing we're driving too fast and the consequences are deadly. News5 has a closer look at this warning and how auto testing and technology will play a role in keeping us safer on the roads.

Speeding is something most people admit is dangerous, but they do it anyway. The newest vehicles on the road do have advanced safety systems, but this research showed even a small increase in speed can overwhelm safety features. Consumer experts say it's changing the industry.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, AAA, and Humanetics crash tested a 2010 Honda CRV. This vehicle was chosen because it is about ten years old much like the average car on the road and because it had the highest safety ratings for its type.

Despite safety features, crash tests performed at speeds of 40, 50, and 56 miles per hour showed as the speeds increased, so did the severity of injury risk.

"Once you get over a certain speed there are diminishing returns on the safety equipment that's in the vehicle," said Jennifer Stockburger, a Consumer Reports auto testing expert.

She says we should now expect safety features more focused on slowing collisions.

"Things like automatic emergency breaking," said Stockburger. "This is a system where the car recognizes there's something in front of you and if it feels you aren't taking appropriate action, say you have your foot on the accelerator, it can actually brake the car for you to avoid the crash, or as this study pointed out maybe it can't avoid the crash completely, but lower that speed of impact meaning much better outcomes for the occupants of the hitting vehicle and the struck vehicle."

The way we crash test vehicles in the United States is expected to soon be changing too. Across the industry it's accepted that the front seat of vehicles are safety than they've ever been before, but there's still room for improvement in the testing process and making other areas of the car safer.

"Occupant gender? How does that influence the outcomes? Maybe the dummies need to be more representative of gender," said Stockburger. "The rear seat, there used to be this great benefit in sitting in the rear seat, but the front occupant cabin has gotten so safe, the rear seat is still safer because it's further from the impact for most, but maybe it's time to bring some of those safety benefits to the rear seat."

Designers of new vehicles will try to correct these vulnerabilities, but Stockburger says when buying used cars prioritizing safety is still very important, especially for inexperienced teen drivers.

"Buy as much safety as you can afford. So for whatever that model year is where your budget limits, going back a little bit," said Stockburger. "Maybe the electronic stability control that was required on all new vehicles after 2012? That was a huge safety game changer. So, what it does is it can independently brake individual wheels. When you get into a skid it can brake a wheel so the car corrects itself. That's huge if you come into a curve too quickly, or slick conditions."

Here are some resources to help you decide which vehicles you might feel safest driving...