Insurance News
December 16, 2015
The Science of Road Safety at the IIHS

science of road safety


If you’ve gone car shopping lately, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) might sound familiar –it’s the organization behind the coveted Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick + ratings given to the safest models on the road.

Before those ratings are given out, a lot has to happen behind the scenes. For example: Did you know the IIHS crashes 50 to 70 brand-new vehicles each year to test how well they tolerate a handful of different collision scenarios? (Watch the video for an inside look at the IIHS’ state-of-the-art Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia.)

Because of the IIHS, the roads – and the vehicles travelling on them – are getting measurably safer each year. But crash tests are just the beginning. Here are five surprising things you might not know about the IIHS:

1. They’ve been around since 1959.

For perspective: That’s the same year the standard three-point seat belt was invented… so, auto safety still had a long way to go.

The IIHS started out by supporting highway safety efforts led by others, but a decade later, it evolved into the independent research organization it is today. Since then, the IIHS has been a leader in determining what works – and what doesn’t – to prevent crashes and minimize injuries in crashes that do occur.

2. They’re driven by science and data.

Led by some of the brightest and well-published researchers in the auto industry, IIHS tests are conducted at some of the best equipped labs in the world, apart from the manufacturers’ grounds themselves.

The institute’s affiliate organization, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), shares and supports the mission of the IIHS by collecting, analyzing and publishing insurance loss data. (That’s the data ERIE referred to in 2013 when we uncovered that being “lost in thought” is the No. 1 driving distraction involved in fatal car crashes.) In fact, the HLDI houses the largest repository of insurance loss statistics in the world.

Check out the interactive HLDI composite to see how your car, SUV or motorcycle compares in both the frequency of insurance claims and the average loss per claim.

3. Crash tests are only a portion of what they do.

Although they’re most known for vehicle research, the IIHS also researches other effects on highway safety: human factors, like alcohol-impaired driving, truck driver fatigue and seat belt use; and physical environments, like roadway designs and roadside hazards.

4. They’ve been behind some of the biggest innovations in auto safety.

Today’s commonplace safety features like bumpers, airbags and headrests weren’t always standard issue in cars. The IIHS helped champion them and earn public support by backing up their effectiveness with hard data. You can also thank the IIHS for longer yellow lights – their research in 1979 on signal timing prompted traffic engineers to adjust the timing to reduce dangerous red light runners.

5. They’re wholly funded by auto insurers and insurance associations.
Erie Insurance is proud to support the IIHS/HLDI and their important mission to make the nation’s roads safer. ERIE’s senior vice president of personal lines, Doug Smith, also serves on their board of directors.

As auto technology progresses, their research is more important than ever. IIHS vehicle testing has evolved from looking at things that protect motorists in the event of a crash, to testing systems like forward collision avoidance and autobrake that can prevent a crash from happening in the first place.

From an era before seatbelts to today’s reality of self-driving cars, one thing isn’t changing: the IIHS remains steady as one of the most respected names in auto safety.

And for all of us on the road, that’s a great thing.

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