We spent all of last week trying to make some sense out of the issues relating to the Tribune article.  What happened?  Are we doing enough to ensure that our kids are safe?  Do we need more testing?  If so, how should we implement new tests and define testing parameters?  How would CR manufacturers comply with new regulations or supplemental tests?  Would new CR designs make seats harder to use properly and increase their prices substantially?   

I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers.  However, this problem of how best to protect occupants of all ages and sizes in motor vehicles isn’t just a problem for America – it’s a global issue.  Child restraints, laws, vehicle features and occupant restraint systems may vary from country to country but the same laws of physics apply to all of us.  Therefore, it makes sense to look at other parts of the world to see how they’re tackling these complex issues.   

After a little research – I’m sad to report that many other parts of the world are kicking our butts with their NCAP testing.  Europe, Japan and Australia all have superior NCAP programs.  I didn’t thoroughly research the Japanese or Australian programs but I did research the European NCAP and our own program is so many years behind that it’s embarrassing.  

Our vehicle testing regimen remains virtually the same now as it was when it began - in 1978.  The only major addition has been a wimpy, side-impact test that they added in 1996.  Honestly, if it wasn’t for the IIHS picking up the slack – we’d still be in the dark ages.   

Let’s take a closer look at the Euro NCAP program…. 

Euro NCAP website:  http://www.euroncap.com/home.aspx

For cars tested before 2009, Euro NCAP had released three separate ratings: adult protection, child occupant and pedestrian protection. The ratings for adult protection and child protection were achieved as a result of three separate impact tests that Euro NCAP carried out: frontal, side and pole test.

By carrying out frontal impact tests at 64km/h (about 40 mph) Euro NCAP simulates a car impacting a similar sized car where both cars are travelling the same speed of 55 km/h. This speed has been shown by accident studies to address a high proportion of fatal and severe injury accidents.

Accident research shows that carrying out frontal impacts at 64km/h speed covers a large proportion of the serious and fatal accidents which occur. Even if the maximum speed limit is 120 km/h, few accidents occur at such speeds and where they do, it is beyond current capabilities to provide protection for the car’s occupants.

As most frontal crashes involve only part of the car’s front, the test is offset to replicate a half width impact between the cars. In the test, this is replicated by having 40 percent of the car impact the barrier.

So, not only are they crashing cars (with carseats and dummies) at 40 mph but they’re using a frontal offset test.  This frontal offset crash test appears to be very similar to the one used by the IIHS here in the US.  In offset tests, only one side of a vehicle’s front end, not the full width, hits the barrier so that a smaller area of the structure must manage the crash energy. This means the front end on the struck side crushes more than in a full-width test, and intrusion into the occupant compartment is more likely.    

The second Euro NCAP test simulates a car-to-car side impact.  In this crash, a deformable barrier impacts the driver’s door at 50 km/h (30 mph).  This is similar (but not identical) to the IIHS side impact crash test.  This is a much tougher side impact test then we use in our own NCAP testing.

  

Last, but not least – the side impact pole test.  In the pole test, the car is propelled sideways at 29kph (18mph) into a rigid pole. The pole is relatively narrow, so there is major penetration into the side of the car.

Now that we’ve covered all of the vehicle crash testing that is done in the Euro NCAP – we’ll take a look at the child restraint testing.  Stay tuned for part II tomorrow.