Crash test finds only half of small cars studied receive acceptable rating

A 2013 Nissan Sentra undergoing the IIHS "small overlap front test."
IIHS

(CBS News) How do small cars hold up in crashes? Maybe not as well as expected.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its first-ever findings from what it calls a "small overlap front test," in which 12 cars were evaluated. Only half earned a safety rating of "good" or "acceptable."

John Giamalvo, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, explained on "CBS This Morning" that the test simulated a 40-mile-per-hour collision with a 5-foot-tall barrier on the driver's side corner of the vehicle but the impact doesn't come into play with the main frame rails of the car. The crash test simulates a car crossing the center line, with a front corner colliding with a car or object.

The crash test results:

  • Good/acceptable ratings:
  • Honda Civic 4-door
  • Honda Civic 2-door
  • Dodge Dart
  • Ford Focus
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Scion tC (2014)
  • Marginal/poor ratings:
  • Chevrolet Sonic
  • Volkswagen Beetle
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Kia Soul
  • Kia Forte (2014)

The cars are structurally safe, Giamalvo said, but the insurance institute is trying to be proactive after seeing that 25 percent of serious injuries in frontal crashes are caused by this type of collision.

"They want to start testing cars a little more rigorously," he said before addressing how drivers should react. "... I wouldn't be concerned at all because the car is essentially safe, and they're just looking at trying to make it that much safer when they see a specific area that is now getting more impacts than it might have normally have gotten."

The crash test comes after a spike in automotive fatalities in 2012 - the first ever, according to Giamalvo. He said, "We've never seen one before. Actually 2011 was the lowest automotive fatality rate in history."

The spike has been attributed to distracted driving from talking and texting on cell phones. Giamalvo said, "When you consider that this kind of test is one that might be associated with that kind of driving behavior, meandering and hitting a tree or a pole.

"I think it all comes down to driving behavior," he said. "I think we all have to understand if we're behind the wheel of a car, eyes on the road, not on your cell phone."

As for automakers, they're likely to respond to the crash tests' results with safer vehicles, Giamalvo said. "The automotive makers are really good at getting ahead of this," he said. "They'll look at structural changes to absorb the impacts in those areas of the car and certainly safety features to protect the occupants."

Watch Giamalvo's full "CTM" appearance above.