The redesigned Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon, both equipped with standard side airbags, earn top ratings of good in side crash tests that simulate an impact from an SUV or pickup truck.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently conducted side tests of eight large family cars. The Buick Lucerne and Hyundai Azera, also equipped with standard side airbags, earn the second highest rating of acceptable.
The Buick LaCrosse with standard side airbags is rated marginal, and so is the Chrysler 300 equipped with optional side airbags. The 300, Ford Five Hundred, and Ford Crown Victoria, all tested without their optional side airbags, are rated poor for side impact protection.
(Note: The Ford Five Hundred with optional side airbags was tested last year and earned a good rating. With optional side airbags, the Five Hundred and its twin Mercury Montego earn the Institute's TOP SAFETY PICK 2006 (gold) award for good ratings in front, side, and rear tests.)
According to Ford, the Five Hundred and Montego will be equipped with standard side airbags beginning with cars built in September 2006.
Side impacts are the second most common fatal crash type after frontal crashes. About 9,700 people were killed in side impacts in 2004. In crashes involving newer model cars in collisions with other passenger vehicles, more driver deaths now occur in cars struck in the side (51 percent) than in the front (44 percent). This contrasts with the past when more deaths occurred in frontal crashes.