The automotive enthusiast press took time out of its quest to save obsolete transmissions (Save the Manuals!) to beat up on the Toyota RAV4 Prime this week. The hubbub is from a “safety test” conducted not by a vehicle testing agency but by a Swedish automotive publication. The punchy headlines left out a lot of the story as we understand it, so we thought we would offer another version of the events.
RAV4 Prime Moose Test – Who Did It?
The test that grabbed a lot of pageviews for the re-reporters was conducted by Teknikens Värld. Watch it above yourself. That the “test” was not conducted by a safety agency like NHTSA, IIHS, or Euro NCAP does not mean the test isn’t meaningful. It just means it was not done by an auto safety group. We feel that is relevant. We looked at the English translation page for the publication today and see that its top headline on its landing page is “Mini’s Worst Comes With Electric Drive.” We suspect the word “Worst” is translated by Google inaccurately, and it means “Most bad-a55.” If you catch our drift. This is the type of stuff the publication posts. We can't argue it isn't good stuff. It's a lot like our own content.
The test the group conducted was then repeated by Toyota, and Toyota confirms the results are valid. Rather than throw a Tesla Twitter tantrum or the usual manufacturer denials of the problem, Toyota owned up to this area for improvement, and Toyota has confirmed that it plans immediate action to make the RAV4 Prime handle better in this extreme situation.
RAV4 Prime Moose Test – The Headlines Left Out the Part About It Passing
Buried in the story are a few facts that make us question the headlines, like The Drive’s, which reads, “Watch the RAV4 Prime Royally Fail the Moose Test.” The first fact is that the group who conducted it reports that the RAV4 Prime passed the test at 39 MPH (63 km/hr). It also failed at 42 MPH and higher speeds. Another fact is that the non-pro-driver tester behind the wheel was able to control the vehicle with steering input. One last fact is that the RAV4 Prime didn’t begin to roll over, or lift two wheels the way many vehicles in past tests did. It just plowed and then rotated into the turn the way a vehicle with a pile of sandbags in the trunk will when pushed past its limits. The publication does its best to make the performance seem as bad is can sound. I don’t blame them. Boring stories don’t get read.
What Is The Moose Test and Why Is It Done?
The idea behind the moose test is that a large animal suddenly appears in front of your path. Coincidentally, you are traveling in a completely loaded vehicle. The publication that does the test piles sandbags into the cargo area to mimic this. Sweden has the most moose by area density in the world. The Swedish kill 100,000 moose every year in hunts to manage the population. That number is about the same as the number of calves born per year. So, you’d assume that moose are killing drivers with alarming frequency. That depends on what alarms you. Our research shows that about 10-15 vehicle occupants are killed per year by moose in Sweden. By contrast, about 75 people are killed by drunk drivers and 40 by drugged drivers. Is there a “Drunk driver” steering test video this week making headlines?
You may ask, why 45 MPH? Why not 50 MPH? Or 55 MPH? or 30 MPH? The reason is that 45 MPH is the point at which such a test can be done. Beyond that, the forward momentum will not allow the majority of cars to weave through the cones while being tossed from left to right. So the Moose test assumes you are not driving at 46 MPH. Any standardized test can offer a comparison, though, and the RAV4 Prime did poorly by comparison to its peers.
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Both the Mitsubishi and the Volvo crossovers tested on that same day also failed to pass at the target speed of 45 MPH. Here is a Google-translated quote from the story: “Both the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid and the Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 understeer at 70 and 71 km / h respectively. None of them are approved in the moose test, but run significantly better than the Toyota RAV4 Laddhybrid.” So if none of the vehicles pass, including the pride of Sweden, the Volvo Safety Machine, maybe the test isn’t valid? Just a thought.
Is Swerving To Avoid An Animal A Wise Reaction?
In America, collisions with animals result in roughly 126 roadway deaths each year. By comparison, NHTSA reports that 738 people died from tire failure related crashes in 2017. NHTSA also reports that 457 individuals died in crashes directly-attributed to cell phone distraction in 2016. That number has been steadily declining in recent years. Drunk drivers kill dramatically more Americans. That number has exceeded 10,000 per year for all of the modern era and shows no sign of ending.
On the subject of “can the majority of drivers swerve to avoid a suddenly appearing moose at 45 MPH,” my personal opinion is “No.” Here’s why. I’ve attended three professional driving schools including two taught by Skip Barber’s team, and one by the Team O’Neil Rally School. All three do exactly this type of left to right abrupt maneuvering as part of the training. I’ve also had a lot of on-track experience in literally every type of vehicle from Hellcat Challengers to SUVs to Miatas to daily-driver crossovers. More than almost anyone who does not race regularly or work at a driving school. My observation of skilled drivers is that they are not able to do the type of accident avoidance maneuver the Moose Test requires. The reason they cannot is lack of practice. Without regular practice in a suitable car, swerving back and forth at the limits of a vehicle’s adhesion and successfully ending up in the original lane is near zero. Now add traffic. What if there is oncoming traffic? The whole plan is moot. Steer into traffic at 45 MPH, you are dead, and the oncoming vehicle’s occupants are also likely dead. What if you have a close shoulder, a loose shoulder, or a guard rail next to you? The plan is moot. You will likely crash due to the fact that everyone overcorrects the initial swerve. People like to pretend that they will be able to immediately take evasive action and cleanly avoid a crash. They are simply dreaming.
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There are uncomfortable facts about animal-related accidents. IIHS states, based on NHTSA data, “Many of these collisions involve secondary impacts that are more severe, such as colliding with another vehicle or a tree.” Standing on the brakes and hitting the animal, even if it is a moose, may be the better strategy. However, it won’t matter. You are not prepared. I am not prepared. And I spend time on racetracks almost every year.
Here's Why a Moose Test Without A Moose Is Invalid
What you or I do if a moose appears in front of a modern vehicle will not be fully in our control. That is because humans cannot react properly every time to every event in which “a large animal suddenly appears in front of your vehicle at 45 MPH.” What will happen before you or I could react? The forward collision prevention system will take action and begin to brake before the time it takes for your right foot to move from the floor, if in cruise control, or the from the go pedal if you are not using cruise control. The proper name for such a system is “Highway Speed AEB (AEB-highway).” The moose test does not actually put a large animal on the course for the car to see. It is just cones. So, it is invalid. If there is actually a moose, elk, reindeer, or similar animal standing in your lane, the car will be braking before you react. That changes a lot. If your plan was to steer before shifting the full weight of the vehicle to the left front contact patch (driver’s front wheel), that is now out the window. The car’s weight is already shifting to the two front wheels before you will take any action. All modern cars have these systems. In Consumer Reports surveys, 54% of respondents say that such systems have intervened to help them.
Toyota RAV4 Prime “Fix”
The story that got less publicity was the follow up by Teknikens Värld, titled After the moose test crash: Toyota fixes RAV4 Laddhybrid. In that story, the publication notes that Toyota has not only acknowledged the problem but identified a fix and plans to have it ready by January of 2021, which is just weeks away. The changes include a stability control software update and recommended tire pressure changes for a fully-loaded RAV4 Prime. We look forward to the follow-up test of the RAV4 Prime. And, of course, the follow up of the Volvo and Mitsubishi both of which also failed the publication’s test.
Source Note: Torque News always inserts a link to any publication we reference. However, our attempts to link back to Teknikens Värld after hitting "Translate to English" has resulted in failed links. You can insert that name into Google to find the publication, or click the Youtube video to go directly to the publication's video and its Youtube page.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin