How Much Difference Does Two Decades of Car Safety Technology Make?

Today, we might take the safety of our cars for granted. This fact has been made a little more evident as Europe’s New Car Assessment Program celebrated the 20th anniversary of its crash testing system. To celebrate, the organization crashed two cars to show the progression of modern safety. It slammed a 1997 Rover 100 and a current model Honda Jazz (known as the Fit in America) into a metal barrier at 40 mph. While some might bemoan modern bumpers made with “cheap” plastic designed to crumple and absorb, you won’t find anyone at HHR against care safety improvements over the years.

Are Old Cars Safe? Probably Not.

An initial view of the video might provide anyone with a positive outlook for both vehicles. After all, the Rover and Honda both deploy airbags upon impact. However, slowing down the video reveals a grimmer reality. When the 20-plus-year-old Rover 100 hits the barrier, its occupants move around because of inadequate restraints. Then, the front of the car crushes so much that the engine jets into the legs of the passengers. By the end of the impact, the metal frame of the vehicle is so twisted that emergency responders wouldn’t be able to reach any survivors.

The Honda Jazz protects its inanimate passengers much more thoroughly. As airbags deploy, they envelop the occupants and stabilize them in a cushioned zone during impact. By the end of the accident, the front of the car smashes, absorbing the impact and maintaining the shape of the Honda’s cabin. Anyone asking, “Are cars safer today?” would have an immediate answer after watching this video.

Improvements Are the History of Car Safety

While these videos are considerable anecdotal evidence, statistics are the real story of improved automobile safety. In the last 20 years, car accident fatalities in the United States have dropped from 1.73 to 1.08 per 100 million between 1994 and 2014.

This little experiment is good news, but it also tells us that we should expect our cars to get safer every year. The NHTSA has announced that it wants to eliminate traffic fatalities from US roads within three decades. Experts say the advent of automated vehicles may help. Self-driving cars and modern safety systems will help make deadly accidents a thing of the past, and these features will come standard on cars as soon as 2022.


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