The importance of improving crashworthiness

This video shows what looks like a small bus plowing at high speed into the back of a line of stationary cars waiting at a highway off-ramp. Amazingly, there are said to be no serious injuries, which is what makes the accident watchable, as otherwise it would be too tragic for words.

As Jonathan Turley points out, one possible reason for the lack of fatalities in such crashes is that past lawsuits forced automakers, over their objections, to make their cars more crashworthy and thus protect occupants

Back in the 1960s Ralph Nader with his landmark book Unsafe At Any Speed and other people began demanding more safety features, starting with seat belts, so that cars that were once death traps are now so much safer. I recall a TV interview from a long time ago in which Nader pointed to all the sharp, hard, and metallic items in a car’s interior which he said were things that would kill you if you were flung against them in an accident, even if you otherwise survived the impact. When you look at the interior of cars now, you see soft, molded, collapsible materials designed to absorb the energy of the impact and crumple, rather that piercing your body and head.

The number of people worldwide whose lives have been spared as a result of these innovations is incalculable.

So thanks, Ralph. We really owe you.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Just by the fact that this happened in Dallas, we can be statistically certain that some of those whose lives were saved strongly oppose government regulation of corporate design and production.

    By the fact that humans are humans, I suspect most of them still feel the same way.

  2. Etienne says

    When I was younger, I bought into the (stupid?) argument that cars were safer back in the days because they didn’t turn into a pile of twisted metal sheets when they crashed.

    Then I saw a video where they crashed two cars head-on: one was a stout car about a half-century old, the other was a recent small car kinda like a Prius or a Focus. The old car survived the crash rather well: it broke up into big clusters of not-too-twisted metal that promptly impaled and crushed the crash dummies in the cabin. And true enough, the front of the new car turned into a pancake of metal and plastic, but the cabin itself was barely dented and the dummies lived to crash another day. Kinda put things back in perspective…

  3. lochaber says

    despite riding public transit, walking, and riding a bicycle for ~95% of my transportation needs, I still hear this tired old argument about old cars being ‘safer’ several times a year.

    I really don’t know what to tell these people. I want to say something along the lines of “would you rather run into a brick wall holding a 3 foot 2×4 against your sternum, or 3 feet of nested styrofoam coffee cups?”, but I’m sure even that will be lost on them.

    I want to blame this on poor science education, but I’m not sure that would change much. There’s a lot of damned kinetic energy in an automobile collision (which only increases as the vehicles increase (compact>luxury sedan>suv, etc.), and it’s gotta go someplace. better the bumper and frame of your car then your (and your passenger’s) cranium and sternum.

    There’s a reason that when they build shinguards and helmets, the soft foam goes on the inside, and the rigid shell on the outside.

  4. ImaginesABeach says

    Back in May, my minivan was t-boned by a Ford F150 extended cab pickup truck going around 45 MPH. It caused $9500 of damage to my minivan, $14,000 in damage to the truck. The passenger side tire of my minivan ended up parallel to the ground, and sent auto glass flying to all corners of the vehicle. Damage to me? I scraped my knee less than if I had tripped and falled, and I had some minor bruising from the seatbelt. Technology for the win!

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