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Midsize sedans fail SUV side-impact test

Institute aims to spur industry to offer better protection

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Disasters and Accidents

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ten models of midsize sedans received a failing grade in a test simulating a side-impact crash with an SUV or pickup, according to results released Sunday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Only two of the 12 sedans tested -- models of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord equipped with optional side airbags -- were awarded the IIHS's highest rating, good. Both were rated poor, along with the others, when models without the optional side airbags were tested.

"We simply haven't made the same progress in protecting people in side impacts as we have in frontal crashes," Brian O'Neill, the institute's president, said in a statement. "Side airbags designed to protect people's heads can prevent very serious head injuries."

The three cars with side air bags standard did not perform better in the institute's test. The Saturn L-Series, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima were all rated poor, the institute's lowest rating.

The other cars that received a poor rating were the Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Dodge Stratus, Chrysler Sebring, Mazda 6 and Suzuki Verona.

The Chevrolet Malibu, which also comes with optional side airbags, was rated acceptable.

According to the institute, the Camry, Accord and Malibu performed better because of their side airbags and a strong vehicle compartment.

The side-impact crash test was the first conducted by IIHS, which has been testing vehicles for years through simulated head-on crashes. The institute is hoping the test will draw manufacturers' attention to making cars safer in side-impact crashes, similar to improvements made when frontal crash data started receiving public attention.

"Most new vehicles do well in the institute's 40 mph frontal offset crash test," O'Neill said. "We believe this new test will drive similar improvements in protection for occupants of side crashes."

Side-impact crashes are the second most fatal type of automobile crash, behind frontal crashes, killing about 9,600 people in 2002. Side airbags with head protection can reduce deaths in side-impact crashes by about 45 percent, according to the institute.

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