The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on May 13 that a crash test of the 2003 Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicle indicated that it had become more harmful to people riding in passenger cars than the 1999 model, the New York Times
The newspaper said the finding was significant because the Navigator has been marketed by Ford as a vehicle redesigned in ways that made it less dangerous to passenger car occupants in two-vehicle collisions.
"We didn't really get the injury outcome we expected," Stephen Summers, a researcher at the traffic safety agency, told the NYT.
The paper said Summers also emphasized that this was only one test and the beginning of what would be a complex effort by vehicle makers and regulators to determine what could be done to reduce the fatalities and injuries that occur when vehicles of different sizes and weights collide.
According to the New York Times
, Ford lowered both the bumper and the internal structure of the Navigator in an effort to make it match up better with the design of cars, which ride closer to the ground than sport utility vehicles. At the same time, though, the 2003 Navigator is heavier and more stiff than the 1999 Navigator, factors which could have some offsetting effect.
The paper said that, in the traffic agency's test, both vehicles had frontal collisions with 1996 Dodge Neons, with all vehicles travelling 30 miles an hour (about 50km/h).
"The driver of the Neon hit by the '03 Navigator did not fare better," Summers told the NYT. "He fared a little worse." The tests used dummies, not actual drivers and, while both Neon drivers would probably have chest injuries, the one hit by the 2003 Navigator would also probably have a head injury. In both cases, the crash was severe for the Neon while the Navigator sustained far less structural damage.
The New York Times
said the subject of crash compatibility — as the industry calls the topic — has drawn increasing scrutiny as the number of SUV's on the road has grown in the last few decades while the weight of the typical SUV has increased. Under pressure from the traffic safety agency, the industry has set up working groups to explore potential standards and test procedures to make vehicles of different types safer when they hit one another, the paper noted.