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After crash tests, insurers say some head restraints fall short

WASHINGTON -- Head restraints in several sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks poorly protected test dummies from neck injuries in a simulated rear crash at 20 miles per hour, the insurance industry reported yesterday.

Only six of the 44 SUVs but not one of the 15 pickups tested earned top scores for their seat and head restraints.

Automakers said their vehicles are safe and meet federal standards. Some took issue with the test, contending that variations in the crash could produce different ratings for the same vehicle.

''Manufacturer advertising often emphasizes the rugged image of SUVs and pickups," said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-funded group. ''However, the institute's evaluations show seats and head restraints in many models wouldn't do a good job of protecting most people in typical rear impact in everyday commuter traffic."

SUVs from the 2006 model year rating poorly were the Acura MDX; BMW X3 and X5; Buick Rainier; Chevrolet TrailBlazer; GMC Envoy; Isuzu Ascender; Chrysler Pacifica; Ford Explorer; Mercury Mountaineer; Honda CR-V; Honda Element; Hyundai Santa Fe; Hyundai Tucson; Jeep Liberty; Kia Sorento; Kia Sportage; Lexus GX 470; Lexus RX 330; Nissan Xterra; Cadillac SRX; Jeep Wrangler; Mitsubishi Endeavor; Mitsubishi Montero; Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7; Toyota 4Runner; and certain models of the Toyota Highlander.

The 2006 SUVs receiving the top score were the Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Subaru Forester, and the Volvo XC90.

Scoring the second-highest rating of acceptable was the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, and Mercury Mariner.

The remaining SUVs were considered marginal, the second-to-worst ranking: Buick Rendezvous; Chevrolet Equinox; Infiniti FX; Mercedes M Class; Mitsubishi Outlander; Nissan Pathfinder; Pontiac Torrent; Saturn Vue; and certain models of the Toyota Highlander.

Among pickups, the institute gave poor ratings to the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, Ford Ranger, Mazda B Series, Nissan Frontier, and versions of the Ford F-150 and Dodge Dakota.

Three models were deemed acceptable: Nissan Titan and versions of the Dodge Dakota and Toyota Tundra. The rest were marginal: the Chevrolet Colorado; GMC Canyon; Isuzu i280 and i350; Toyota Tacoma; and certain versions of the Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150.

The institute gave the Ranger a good rating for 2005 models but criticized the pickup's redesign for 2006, which made the head restraint shorter by nearly 3 inches. Lund said the design change was ''puzzling."

Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said the automaker received a number of complaints from consumers about rear visibility and redesigned the head restraint.

Several automakers took issue with the test results and said their restraints were built to provide a high level of safety.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said the institute's test could lead to different ratings for the same vehicle.

The vehicles were tested on a crash simulation sled, replicating the forces in a stationary vehicle that is struck in the rear by a similar vehicle at 20 mph. Vehicles got a higher rating if the head restraint contacted the dummy's head quickly and the forces on the neck and the acceleration of the torso were low.

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