Multiple news outlets reported this week that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed crash tests on eight (8) different SUV vehicles. The crash test mimics what would be considered a violent and dangerous type of collision. Of all the vehicles tested, the Jeep Cherokee and the Ford Explorer were the only vehicles to receive a “poor” rating.
In the test, a vehicle is propelled at 40 miles an hour and strikes a barrier with just the outermost part of the bumper on the passenger’s side. It is designed to mimic the impact of a vehicle with another car or a tree or pole with just the outer part of the bumper. The occupant compartment on the Grand Cherokee was also crushed inward in the test. The crash test dummy’s head sunk into the front airbag so far that it hit the dashboard. Also, the side airbag failed to deploy while driver’s side door also opened. That allowed the dummy’s head to move outside the vehicle. Leg injuries were seen as likely and head injuries possible.
In a response email, Ford stated: “In an email, Ford said that the Explorer is safe, and has earned top scores in all other crash tests. The automaker added that a new version of the Explorer will go on sale next year, and that it expects that car will earn top scores in all Insurance Institute and government crash tests, including the small overlap test.”
What does this mean for both of these car makers? For one, I think it opens the door for auto defect lawsuits if serious injuries result from these types of crashes. In most jurisdictions (states), there are two (2) types of auto defect claims. The first is an auto product liability case, which arises when a car defect causes the accident which results in serious injury or death. These types of auto defects are referred to as crash causing defects. An example of a crash causing auto defect is the tread separation of a defective tire which results in the driver losing control of the vehicle.
The second type of auto defect case arises when a vehicle fails to provide reasonable crash protection to its occupants. This type of case is often referred to as a crash worthiness case.
For the above vehicles, if there are cases where drivers are seriously injured in violent crashes as described above, I think we could see a rise in crash worthiness auto defect lawsuits against both car makers.
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I have previously written about the challenges car makers are faced when designing new vehicles. Often decisions are being made whether to design a vehicle that is crash-worthy or something that is fuel efficient and more environmental friendly. Apparently manly area school districts have been faced with the same delimma when choosing their cars for driver education classes. According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, several local school districts are choosing cars that have poor cash ratings because they are cheaper and more fuel efficient.
The study, which was done by the Tribune along with Cars.com, revealed that the more affluent your school district the safer your drivers ed vehicle will be. The study also showed that the Illinois does not track the type of cars being used nor are there any safety rules or regulations. The Tribune filed 60 Freedom of Information Act requests to get the year, make and model of driver’s ed cars. The newspaper then compiled the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test ratings for each car used in 2010 and 2011 and pressed districts for specifics about their cars. Some districts — particularly those that leased their cars from area dealers — did not maintain comprehensive records. The study also revealed that districts often place cost and fuel efficiency above crash test ratings and vehicle size — factors that experts consider when judging a car’s safety.
The Chicago Public School District said that the oldest vehicle they use is a 1990 Dodge Shadow. Almost half the cars are pre-2000 Plymouth Breezes, Neons and Chevy Cavaliers, which garnered poor highway safety institute ratings. The school district in Will County also uses many older and more fuel efficient vehicles that do not have a very good crash worthiness rating. On the other hand, schools in the North Suburbs use much bigger and newer vehicles such as muscle type sport cars for their drivers ed classes. These vehicles all have a higher crash ratings.
There is no easy answer to this problem. It is well documented that CPS is cash strapped and their driver’s ed vehicle fleet is probably not a top priority to spend money. Is this putting CPS students at a higher risk than students in wealthier districts? Is it fair for a child that grows up in a poorer neighborhood (through no choice of their own) be subjected to a vehicle that is less safe? I do not think so. Yet, like I said, there are no easy answers. Hopefully a serious car accident is not the cause for change by the state to address this issue.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a Chicago car accident or Chicago truck accident, then call Chicago injury attorney, Aaron Bryant, for a free consultation at 312-588-3384 or go to the firm website at www.blgchicago.com