Thursday, May 6, 2004

Some SUVs rated safer than others


Saturn, Toyota, Infiniti test highest of 13

By Dee-Ann Durbin
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - General Motors' sport-utility vehicles generally have poor ratings in the government's frontal crash tests but perform well in side-impact crashes, according to results released Wednesday.

The 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer, Buick Rainier, GMC Envoy, GMC Envoy XUV and Oldsmobile Bravada each earned three out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal crash tests. But they earned five stars on the side-impact tests.

Three stars means there is a 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury in a similar real-world crash. NHTSA conducts the front-impact test at 35 mph and the side-impact test at 38.5 mph.

GM spokesman Jim Schell said none of the vehicles tested has been updated in the last two years. He pointed out that one of GM's new SUVs, the Cadillac SRX, earned four stars on the frontal crash test and five stars on the side-impact test.

The Saturn Vue, Toyota Highlander and Infiniti FX were the only SUVs of the 13 tested to receive five stars in both the front- and side-impact tests.

Three of the vehicles tested - the Cadillac SRX, Volkswagen Touareg and Infiniti FX - have standard side air bags, but they performed no better in side crashes than the SUVs without air bags. Air bags are optional on all the other SUVs tested.

The results indicate that side air bags make a bigger difference in passenger cars, which are at risk of being hit by taller and larger vehicles.

Crash test results reported last month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed cars with side air bags protected passengers better than those without.

NHTSA plans to update its standards for side-impact protection this month. Administrator Jeffrey Runge said last week that the new standards will consider for the first time how well an occupant's head is protected. He said 1,000 lives per year could be saved once automakers make the design changes necessary to meet the new standards.

NHTSA's ratings are important to automakers, who often use them in advertising. The agency rates vehicles according to sales volume and other factors.

On the Net: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: www.nhtsa.dot.gov




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