Watch How Terrifyingly Bad Car Safety Was Just 20 Years Ago

Cars get a little safer every year, but incremental improvements to things like airbags and crumple zones are easy to overlook. Take a long view, though—like, two decades long—and the sum of these small advances becomes glaringly obvious.

Europe’s New Car Assessment Program started crash testing vehicles 20 years ago this week. To mark the occasion, it smashed a 1997 Rover 100 and a modern equivalent, the Honda Jazz (known as the Honda Fit in the US), into a metal barrier at 40 mph. The results are sobering.

The decades-old Rover does a terrible job protecting its passengers. It’s got airbags, sure, but the crash test dummies inside are so poorly restrained that the driver slides around them; the impact drives the engine into the passengers’ legs; and the doors buckle and twist in ways that would make it difficult for emergency crews to access the car.

The dummies in the Honda fare much better. It’s still a gnarly crash, but a side curtain airbag helps cushion and contain the driver, while the metal structures cocooning the passengers remain rigid and retain their shape. The crash forces don’t appear to travel past the windscreen.

Needless to say, the rate of fatal car crashes has dropped considerably in the past 20 years. (In the US, the number of fatalities per 100 million miles driven fell from 1.73 in 1994 to 1.08 in 2014.) But structural improvements and upgrades to technologies like airbags can only save so many lives. To eliminate traffic deaths completely (something the Department of Transportation aims to accomplish within the next three decades), car makers are looking to autonomous features to minimize the penalties of human error. The safest car, after all, is one that never crashes in the first place.

Some self-driving capabilities will arrive in the next few years; automatic emergency braking systems, for example, will come standard on all new US vehicles by 2022. Others are already making drivers safer. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that Tesla vehicles with Autosteer technology enabled crash 40 percent less frequently than those without.

It’ll be a while before autonomous cars make collision tests obsolete. Until then, take comfort in incremental advances. Whether it’s an updated chassis or a better lane-detecting algorithm, little upgrades have a way of adding up.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/watch-terrifyingly-bad-car-safety-just-20-years-ago/

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