“Small overlap frontal test: The test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. This crash test is a challenge for some safety belt and airbag designs because occupants move both forward and toward the side of the vehicle.
In the small overlap frontal test, a vehicle travels at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier. A Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man is positioned in the driver seat. Twenty-five percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the barrier on the driver side.
Most modern cars have safety cages encapsulating the occupant compartment and built to withstand head-on collisions and moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation. At the same time, crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant compartment. The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50 percent of the front end. When a crash involves these structures, the occupant compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can effectively restrain and protect occupants.
Small overlap frontal crashes primarily affect a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures. Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion in the occupant compartment and resulting in serious leg and foot injuries. To provide effective protection in small overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that aren’t tempered by crush-zone structures. Widening these front-end structures also would help.