Photos: Courtesy of IIHS
IN A SPRAWLING FACILITY NEAR RUCKERSVILLE, VIRGINIA, ENGINEERS AND TECHNICIANS REGULARLY CAUSE THE LARGE-SCALE DESTRUCTION OF MULTITUDES OF VEHICLES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. IS THIS A SECRET GOVERNMENT FACILITY DEDICATED TO WEAPONS RESEARCH OR SOME MILITARY SKUNK WORKSSM OPERATION WORKING BELOW THE RADAR OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE?
No, but it is something almost as intriguing. It’s the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center (VRC). The VRC actually houses two distinct entities – the IIHS and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific organization dedicated to reducing losses – deaths, injuries, and property damage – from crashes on the nation’s highways.
Less known to the media and the public, HLDI also provides services to vehicle insurers. Its mission is to compute and publish insurance loss results by make and model.
Both organizations are wholly supported by auto insurers.
WHAT IIHS DOES
The IIHS also performs other tests designed to help consumers make car-buying decisions.
In addition, the VRC also conducts crash tests specifically to demonstrate new safety technologies and to illustrate hazardous practices. Demonstration tests show firsthand the effectiveness of vehicle seats and head restraints, the dangers of placing child seats in front of passenger airbags, and the hazards of riding in pickup cargo beds.
The IIHS distributes film of its tests to the media. The slow-motion films detail the stunning violence and massive damage inflicted upon a vehicle and its passengers in the fraction of a second it takes to absorb an impact. Sheet metal crinkles like wrapping paper. Glass sprays like water from a hose. Crash test dummies’ appendages are whip-cracked by the force of rapid deceleration. The action moves slowly, giving viewers plenty of time to think about the consequences of such a crash in the real world, with real people – not dummies.
More than just fodder for television news magazines, the IIHS’ test program has become the unofficial standard for vehicle crash tests.
BENEFITS FOR CAR OWNERS
Thanks to the Institute’s work, late-model cars and other passenger vehicles are safer, and crash deaths and injuries have been reduced. The Institute supplies consumers worldwide with information about car crashworthiness through its Web site, www.iihs.org. It also publishes a monthly newsletter, Status Report, as well as advisories to keep consumers informed of its latest research.
TESTING, TESTING ...
As testament to the Institute’s influence, some manufacturers have revised their vehicles specifically to earn Top Safety Pick awards. For instance, many automakers have added standard side airbags with head protection, even though government regulations don’t require them. All 2007 Top Safety Pick winners have standard side airbags.