The new test is called a “small overlap” crash. Basically, that’s the term insurance people use for when a car hits an object head on, but only on the driver’s side. In the test, 25 percent of the vehicle’s front end makes contact with a stationary barrier at 40 mph. The Insurance Institute, which regularly evaluates cars for safety, began running the test in 2012.
This year, the IHHS ran the small overlap test on 11 small cars, using examples of the vehicles’ 2013 or 2014 models. Six cars were slapped with “poor” ratings in the test, according to the Associated Press. None of the 11 earned a “good” rating. Only one, the Chevy Spark, did well enough in the test to receive the second-best rating of “acceptable.”
Small overlap crashes are especially dangerous because they do not hit the “crumple zone” designed into most cars, which take effect in full-on collisions. Cars that get hit head on are designed to “crumple” around the occupant compartment — the area where the driver and passengers sit. The most important safety factor in a crash is keeping that compartment as intact as possible, so a car’s air bags and seat belts can do their job.
But if the occupant compartment collapses, for example if the steering wheel is pushed back toward the driver, the chance of serious injury increases greatly.
Such “intrusion” into the occupant compartment is much more likely in small overlap crashes because they bypass the crumple zone. But small overlap crashes make up about one of every four crashes in the real world, Newsday reports.
In addition to the Prius C, the other vehicles to receive “poor” ratings in the small overlap were the Nissan Versa, Mitsubishi Mirage, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit.
The Toyota Prius C was not the worst of the bunch however. That distinction was shared by the Honda Fit and Fiat 500.
“In both cases, intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver,” the IIHS said in its report.
In a statement, Toyota said it would work to improve the safety of the Prius C in the driver’s side, front end crashes.
“With this new test, the institute has raised the bar again and we will respond to the challenge,” the company said in a statement.