DETROIT -- Only two out of 12 compact SUVs scored a "good" grade in a new crash test designed to measure injuries resulting from an SUV or pickup ramming into the side of the vehicles. Head-protecting side airbags, which can make the difference between minor injuries and death in a side-impact crash, were the difference between the vehicles that earned "good" ratings and others that scored "poor" in the test. The side airbag-equipped Subaru Forester and Ford Escape scored "good" ratings in the crash test, which was developed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The institute crashed a 3,300-pound weight -- shaped to simulate the front-end of a typical SUV or pickup -- into the side of the vehicles at about 30 mph. A second Ford Escape and six other compact SUVs without side airbags scored "poor" ratings. The heads of some of the test dummies smashed through the side window and struck the top of the simulated crash vehicle. "It certainly demonstrates clearly the benefits you can get protecting both the torso and the head with side airbags," Brian O'Neill, president of the institute, told Reuters. The institute is an auto safety organization funded by large insurers. The institute also gave a "good" rating to Mazda Motor Corp.'s Tribute SUV, even though it didn't test the vehicle, since it is a mechanical twin of the Ford Escape. The Mitsubishi Outlander scored the worst in the test. The crash barrier intruded into the passenger compartment of the Outlander, striking the driver dummy's head, and the injury measurements recorded on the head as well as on the torso and pelvis were high, the institute said. Comparing the Forester with the Outlander, O'Neill said: "In one case, serious injury would be unlikely; in the other case, fatal injuries are a distinct possibility." The Toyota RAV4, Honda Element, Saturn Vue, Land Rover Freelander, Suzuki Grand Vitara also scored "poor" ratings in the crash test. The institute noted that the Suzuki Vitara and the Chevrolet Tracker are nearly the same as the Suzuki Grand Vitara and assigned the same rating to all vehicles. A Hyundai Santa Fe equipped with side airbags scored an "acceptable" rating in the test, while a Honda CR-V without side airbags scored a "marginal" rating. The institute first began conducting crash tests eight years ago. Its frontal crash test is more severe than the test by U.S. safety regulators. Over time, the automotive industry has adapted its vehicles to the point where almost all cars and trucks now score "good" or "acceptable" ratings. With the growing number of SUVs and pickups on U.S. roads, the institute decided several years ago to develop a side-impact test that would show the dangers of larger vehicles on the roads. Several of the compact SUVs offered side airbags as optional equipment. But only the Ford Escape was tested twice because Ford agreed to pay to have a second vehicle tested and the other automakers did not, O'Neill said. O'Neill expects that the tests will lead the automakers to make changes. The institute will test mid-sized cars this fall. "I expect in many cases we'll see some changes very quickly," he said. "I expect we'll see the introduction of side-impact airbags accelerate, and we'll also see improvements in side structures." -------------------- Interesting.