NHTSA, IIHS Testing Differences
In essence, they try to put a pattern to chaos. In doing so they try to make it so that chaos doesn't happen to the people involved in a vehicle crash, whether it is a minor fender bender or a major impact. They crash cars for a living here, and have turned it into a life-saving science. Arguably, their testing is more up-to-date and "real world" than any other, including the government's testing at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), though both sources provide a critical overview of specific vehicle safety. Since 1978, NHTSA has conducted a 35 mph full frontal test where the full width of the front end of the vehicle hits a rigid barrier. One of the Institute's primary tests is a frontal offset, during which 40 percent of a vehicle's front end hits a deformable barrier at 40 mph. Unlike the NHTSA barrier, the Institute's barrier is designed to mimic the height, weight and width of a common SUV, and the offset angle is meant to replicate the most common accident scenario. The Institute has been conducting this test since 1995, and since then automakers have learned to either love or hate the folks in the Virginia farmhouse, depending on how their cars rate. To watch a group of automaker reps at the site of a testing is akin to watching first-time fathers in the hospital waiting room - or a guilty defendant and his lawyer outside the courtroom doors.
"Our mandate is to find ways to reduce deaths, injuries and costs, and drive vehicle design improvements," said Brian O'Neil, president of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. "Safety has become a hot button, and we're seeing vehicle improvements through the worldwide marketplace. The paradigm has shifted."