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Family Vehicles: Trading Safety for Function?

By The Husband and Wife Law Team on October 28, 2020

Your first family mini-van is almost like a rite of passage. It marks the stage in your life when you know you can easily transport your entire household, pets including, on road trips, sports games, and family gatherings. You also expect this vehicle to last you for years, and hopefully throughout the entire time your kids are living at home.

That’s why you might take your time in picking the right vehicle, from reading up on new safety features to crash test ratings to customer reviews. But it is important to know that the standard mini-van, like most vehicles, has inherent issues that can lead to serious injuries.

What Makes Mini-Vans Unique?

Every vehicle, before it can be sold to a new driver, must pass certain safety requirements. This includes meeting specific federal guidelines, like having functioning seat belts, headlights, and airbags, or following certain fuel efficiency standards. Mini-vans are no different, but their unique size and design can lead to unique issues.

Vehicles are designed to be larger and heavier than sedans, allowing a family to comfortably fit inside. They are not as large or heavy as SUVs, meaning they are less likely to be involved in a rollover, and they can withstand impacts from smaller vehicles like sedans or SmartCars. However, as expected, larger vehicles like semi-trucks can severely injure a mini-van’s occupants, even forcing the vehicle to rollover if enough force is applied.

Their designs are also not full-proof against collisions with similar-sized vehicles. When a new model goes through crash testing, researchers generally drive vehicles into similarly-sized objects in order to mimic real-world collisions. This makes it easier to study sedans because they are the most common vehicle on the road, but for larger or smaller vehicles, there is some leeway in what could happen. The tests may not account for how a collision between an SUV and a mini-van would conclude, but one can assume it would not end well.

Over the past decade, there have also been safety concerns regarding driver injuries. In a crash test of four mini-vans by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), including the 2014-2015 models of the Nissan Quest, Nissan Sienna, Chrysler Town & Country, and Dodge Grand Caravan, results showed that only the Nissan Sienna performed well in the small overlap crash test. This test is designed to simulate a collision on the driver’s side of a vehicle, often with another vehicle, tree, or pole. During the test, researchers discovered that the Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town & Country, and Dodge Grand Caravan were not absorbing the impact well and that drivers would likely be severely injured.

Beyond drivers, there is also the question of passenger safety.

The Danger to Passengers

In recent years, the IIHS test began to include front overlap crash tests for the passenger side of a vehicle. Previous tests have been focused on the driver’s side and the front-center of the vehicle, while the new one does take into account specifically how passengers fair in head-on collisions or rear-end accidents. One such test did show alarming results.

In a report by the IIHS, researchers explained how the 2018 Toyota Sienna exposed the front passenger to extreme trauma, noting that the crash test dummy’s foot needed to be pried free with a crowbar. In a living person, this would amount to a catastrophic crush injury that would likely lead to an amputation. While Toyota has acknowledged the result of the test and worked to rectify the issue, it is troubling that such a danger was possible and that a passenger could be so heavily injured. A similar issue was discovered with the Chrysler Pacifica.

The researchers also took looked into the crashworthiness of the vehicles’ LATCH systems, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, which parents will know as the small tethers in passenger seats that allow them to easily attach child carriers into the seat. When testing a LATCH system, the researchers look at how difficult it is for a driver to use the tethers and how likely there is to be an installation error. These vehicles tested achieved good to marginal rankings on that front, but parents should be aware of how these features fair during testing. Child restraints need to be properly installed to ensure children do not suffer catastrophic injuries.

Altogether, mini-vans are generally safe compared to other vehicles and are not known for having major design or manufacturing issues. But every driver should thoroughly review all test results and safety concerns before purchasing a vehicle, especially a mini-van. You do not want to pick an affordable model without knowing how it could impact your loved ones in an accident.

Oftentimes, accidents occur less due to manufacturing errors and more due to a negligent driver. However, whichever scenario you are in, the Phoenix car accident attorneys at Breyer Law Offices, P.C. can provide a helpful hand. If you are involved in an accident due to a reckless driver, whether or not you were in a mini-van, reach out to us at (602) 457-6222. The Husband and Wife Law Team can explain all your options after a collision, including how you can file a claim for damages.

Posted in: Auto Accident

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