Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Steven George: Number of avoidable wrecks ’staggering’
Steven George has dedicated his career to helping make America’s highways safer. His passion has paid off, as George was elected board chairman of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in January 2011. The institute — a nonprofit organization backed by the insurance industry — is best known for its vehicle safety ratings.
George — who is executive vice president of insurance services at the California State Auto Group, a provider of AAA-branded insurance in 23 states and the District of Columbia — will make research one of the institute’s top priorities during his one-year tenure as board chairman. He recently spoke with InsuranceQuotes.com about his plans for the organization.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What are some of the things you hope to accomplish during your time as board chairman at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety?
Steven George: First of all, I think this is an exceptionally well-run organization, so I want to make sure that we continue that status. I would say that we have established ourselves as the premier non-governmental source for highway safety info — especially vehicle safety info. There’s still a lot of work to be done. There are still too many people dying on the highways. My goal is to do those things and also to make sure we’re strategically ready for the next 10 years.
|Steven George, chairman of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, offers this advice for making American roads safer: Obey traffic laws and buckle up.|
InsuranceQuotes.com: What can we expect to see from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2011 that we haven’t seen in years past?
George: We’re working on a new frontal-crash test. Forty or 50 years ago, all of the crash testing was in a solid-barrier type of environment, and IIHS realized that while that tested the strength of the front end of the car, it didn’t really replicate what happens in a lot of real-world crashes. That was the beginning of the offset frontal-crash test.
Today, almost every car now passes that offset frontal-crash test criteria. But we’re starting to do more research and study about what’s happening in other accidents, and you start realizing that you’ve got to start testing for how much of the front ends connect with each other and how much strength you have in that one part.
We’re looking at whether we could develop a new frontal-crash test that further challenges what happens in enough real-world crashes where there isn’t that much overlap or we’ve done some testing in the past with poles and trees that would engage the front end of the car differently. We’re working on what that new crash test would be, and I think you’ll see some of that type of crash-testing innovation come out later in 2011.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What do you see the role of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety being, and how have you seen that role evolve during your time with the organization?
George: The very simple mission of IIHS, from what I’ve seen over the last 13 years, is that this group is totally committed to making the highways safer. One of the ways we do that is to improve vehicle occupant safety. The evidence is pretty compelling that the work of IIHS to make vehicles safer and protect occupant safety within the vehicle has saved a substantial number of lives. That’s, to me, what really has made me so proud to be a part of the organization and why it’s such an honor to have the opportunity to chair the organization. This group has really made a difference in saving lives and making people safer.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What’s one common thing that drivers can do to make the roads safer?
George: Obey traffic laws and buckle up. The evidence is overwhelming. If people just obeyed speed limits, observed stop signs and red lights, and buckled up, it would make the roads safer. It’s staggering how many collisions would be avoided if that happened.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How has your work with AAA prepared you for your role with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety?
George: I’m entering my 32nd year in the insurance business. Just by virtue of being in the insurance industry, you unfortunately get to see the real effect of what happens in these crashes. You get to see what happens when people don’t observe safety guidelines and don’t buckle up or run red lights. We end up paying for some pretty gruesome things.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How can consumers become better informed when making decisions about their auto insurance?
George: Make safety a priority in your buying decision. One of the ways you can do that is looking at the IIHS website. You can get data about vehicles and whether they meet certain safety thresholds. I think the other thing is that people need to pay attention to what happens in real-world crashes. It’s wonderful to have a small, economic car, but you’ve got to pay attention to the sheer physics of what you’re on the road with.
InsuranceQuotes.com: So you’re saying that being a more informed insurance consumer starts with the type of car you choose?
George: Yes. You know, it’s interesting. IIHS did some research around higher mileage vs. getting a vehicle that would be significantly safer. For example, buying a Toyota Yaris — and I’m not picking on Toyota — but buying a Toyota Yaris, which would give you substantially more miles per gallon than a Camry, would probably save you less than $1,000 a year in gas. But the safety features of the Camry, given the size and the protection that it offers, would be substantial. Picking a midsize car over a subcompact, to me, is a safety choice.
– Kevin Allen