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Small Cars Don't Fare Well In New Crash Tests

ARLINGTON, VA -- (WWJ) Only one of a dozen small cars earned a good rating in a tough new crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"The Mini Cooper Countryman gave a solid performance," says Joe Nolan, the Institute's senior vice president forehicle research. "The Countryman's safety cage held up reasonably well. The safety belts and airbags worked together to control the test dummy's movement, and injury measures indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash this severe."

LINK -- Small Car Crash Test Results

The test, officially called the "Small Overlap Front Test" sends a car into a barrier at 40 miles per hour. Only 25 percent of the front of the car hits the barrier, similar to what would happen in a real world collision with a telephone poll or tree.

Five small cars received an acceptable rating, two were marginal and four were rated poor.

"All the vehicles that don't perform well have a lack of containment of the occupant space," says Nolan.

That can prevent air bags from doing their jobs, allowing head injuries, or cause hip, leg and other injuries.

The test is more stringent than anything required by the federal government. But, the job of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is to pressure car companies into building safer vehicles.

"The auto makers are responding, some faster than others," said Nolan. "Typically, big changes are brought in with a redesigned model. Some automakers are putting patches or intermediate changes, to at least up the performance out of what we'd call poor."

The Insurance Institute has been doing this particular test for more than a year. Of 32 small cars tested, 19 have done well enough to be considered "Top Safety Picks."

This is the first time electric vehicles have gone through this particular test, and while the Chevy Volt received an acceptable rating and the Nissan Juke was rated poor, Nolan said the ratings had nothing to do with the way the way the vehicles were powered.

"The good news is we didn't see any problem with the electric powertrain, the batteries."

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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