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Is your family car safe?

How cars fared in a test side crash  with an SUV or pick-up truck.

Take a crash test dummy, put it in the path of an SUV traveling at 31-miles-per-hour, and what do you get?

A potentially devastating impact.

Adrian Lund, head of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:  It may sound like a low speed. But these are the speeds at which people start getting serious injuries in the real world.

Adrian Lund heads the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a group that conducts crash tests in an effort to improve vehicle safety and save money for the insurance companies that fund it.

In this latest round, eight large cars were put through a demanding test that simulates a side crash.

Lund:  We’re doing a worst case scenario.  What if an SUV or pick-up hits you broadside right in your door openings? 

Because a heavy sled sits high off the ground and comes barreling in right at the dummy’s head, Lund says all vehicles need a strong structure and they must have something to protect both the head and the body, like airbags.

The Institute always tests vehicles with standard equipment and the first three cars do not come standard with side airbags.

Lund:  The Ford Crown Victoria gets a "poor" rating because it doesn’t keep the barrier out and we see high risk of injury, especially to the driver — to the head, the chest, the abdomen, and even the pelvis and the legs.

The results aren’t much better for the Ford Five Hundred or the Chrysler 300. Even though the structures hold up better, Lund says there are possible serious injuries. As a result, two more “poors,” the Institute’s lowest rating.

You can pay more to get side airbags as options in all three of these cars. But do they make a difference in this test?

Ford did not have the Crown Victoria re-tested, but the Ford Five Hundred was. There was a dramatic difference.

Lund: The difference is night and day.Without airbags, we have potentially fatal injuries.  With them, we have a "good" performance.

With those optional airbags the Five Hundred earns the Institute’s highest rating, “good.”

Chrysler also paid the Institute to test it’s 300 with optional head curtain airbags that drop down. Lund says while it helps lower some of those injury measures, one can still see a risk of internal organ injuries. The 300 improves to a “marginal” rating, the second lowest.

Vehicles with standard side airbags 
For the next five vehicles, you don’t have to pay extra to get airbags.

Lund says that in the Buick Lacrosse, even with the curtain airbags, the dummy records forces high enough to cause possible internal organ injuries and a fractured pelvis.

Lund:  Protecting the head is not enough.  It’s critical, but it’s not enough.

The Lacrosse is rated “marginal.”

Both the Buick Lucerne and the Hyundai Azera, automobiles have airbags that come out of the seat to protect the body, as well as curtains to cushion the head. But Lund says the structures give in too much—too much to eliminate the risk of injury, more so in the Azera. Both get “acceptable” ratings, the second highest.

Toyota Avalon: Crash readings show the structure holds up well and the injury measures are low. The Avalon earns the institute’s highest rating “good.”

The Chevrolet Impala got another top rating.

Lund: The head curtain airbag deployed so that it protected the driver and the rear passenger’s head well in the crash.  The structure held up reasonably well. And we also saw low risk of injury to the driver and the rear passenger’s chest and abdomen.  This is what we’re looking for— good performance.

All of these cars meet federal safety standards. Daimler Chrysler says the Institute’s test represents a severe and infrequent crash and the 300 is designed and engineered to perform well in the real-world.

Ford tells us side airbags will come standard in the Five Hundred by this September and it’s having the Crown Victoria with optional side airbags tested by the Institute later this year.

For Adrian Lund, the take away from these results is clear.

Lund:    This is a very risky kind of crash.  And some of the vehicles out there do a much better job of protecting you and your family in a side impact than others.