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Strong Design and Airbags Essential for Side-Impact Crash Safety

Side-impact automobile accidents are among the most terrifying. With less separating a car's occupants from the impacting vehicle, they are also among the most dangerous.

Side-impact car crashes account for one in four car accident fatalities in the United States. Protecting against injury in these accidents has proven a significant challenge, due to the lack of space and material to absorb crash impact and protect occupants.

The government, automakers and insurance companies perform regular crash-testing for side-impact crashes. Although the crash-rating tests differ in certain respects, the basic process is the same in each. Barriers designed to match the weight and shape of various vehicle types slam into the sides of test vehicles containing crash test dummies. The test dummies can match the physical characteristics and vulnerabilities of young and adult men and women.

Engineers in one test use three factors to arrive at numerical side-impact safety ratings: driver and passenger injury, head protection, and structure performance. Injury results are used to mimic the possible injuries sustained in side-impact accidents. Head protection measures the motion of the head upon impact. Structure performance measures the extent to which the crash caused a breach of the car's occupant compartments. An overall rating of "good" marks a 70 percent or greater chance of surviving a side-impact accident. By comparison, a "marginal" rating denotes a less than 50 percent chance of survival.

Side-impact airbags play a major role in reducing injuries and are standard in most new passenger vehicles. Airbags help distribute impact forces over a larger area. Where a crash does not significantly breach the vehicle's occupant space, the air bag and safety belt often help prevent injury. However, in stronger impact collisions, the air bag may fail to deploy properly. As a result, passengers may strike the car, or vice-versa, causing serious injury. In recent years, many automakers are following the recommendations of crash raters and building stronger occupant compartments.

If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand your rights.