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Crashworthiness then versus now

April 17, 2010

How do you think the crashworthiness of a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air would compare with a 2009 Chevy Malibu? Likely, many would opt for the 1959 Bel Air, figuring it was heavier, built better, and therefore better in a crash. How wrong you would be!

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which these Did You Know articles have quoted oftentimes in the past, conducted a 40 mph frontal offset crash test last September to celebrate the contributions of auto insurers to highway safety over more than 50 years. Here are the results of that test.

In a real world collision similar to this test, occupants of the new model would fare much better than in the vintage Chevy. The Malibu's structure held up well while the Bel Air's collapsed around the driver dummy. Injury measurements recorded on the dummy in the Malibu were good except for a possible left foot injury, while a driver in a real-world crash of the Bel Air would suffer serious, if not fatal, injuries.

The following categories were evaluated: Overall, structure/safety cage, head/neck, chest, left leg/foot, right leg/foot and restraints/dummy kinematics. In every category, the 1959 Bel Air was rated "poor." The 2009 Malibu, however, resulted in a rating of "good" (the highest possible rating) in every category except the left leg/foot, which received a rating of marginal.

"It was night and day, the difference in these cars," said Adrian Lund, the IIHS president. "The test shows that automakers don't build cars like they used to - they build them better!"

Much of the credit for safer cars can be attributed to the work that the IIHS has accomplished over the past 50 years. Knowing this organization will be crashworthiness testing every manufacturer every year, no car manufacturer wants to have their vehicle classified in a lesser category. Thus, manufacturers have made a solid commitment to safety. To do otherwise would be disastrous - just look at Toyota today.

For more traffic safety information, visit on the Web at



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