Highway Safety and Crash Testing Organizations
By Cathy Nikkel /autoMedia.com
Henry Bliss stepped off a New York trolley in 1899 and was hit and killed by
an automobile, becoming the first North American motor vehicle fatality. Since
that time, more than 20 million people worldwide have died in traffic
accidents. Government and private groups work worldwide to get consumers
information about the safest cars to drive and safe driver strategies to stem
the growing accident statistics.
|Early Testing |
Automakers began researching how to make cars safer back in 1930, when they
crashed cars carrying cadavers to measure the effects on vehicle occupants.
Cadavers couldn't tell researchers whether a passenger could survive a crash,
so they began to strap pigs, chimpanzees and, in one instance, a bear into
crash test devices (some scientists with more zeal than common sense also
strapped themselves into these devices). The animal/human testing led to
safety steps including the introduction of a collapsible steering column after
over a million drivers died when they were impaled on rigid steering wheels.
The collapsible steering column cut death-by-steering wheel by 50 percent.
Alarmed by growing highway fatalities in the '60s, Congress instituted the
National Highway Safety Bureau in 1966 to focus on highway safety. The name
was changed in 1970 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA). The agency is mandated to issue federal safety standards and
regulations with which automakers and suppliers must comply. The agency's
first standard concerning seatbelt assemblies was issued in 1967. Such federal
standards set minimum safety performance requirements with the intention of
protecting the public against unreasonable risk of death or injury, during a
crash, from the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle. They
do not mandate specific safety fixes.
NHTSA, which must answer to Congress, issues recalls when defects are found
through accident data and consumer complaints. The agency is also tasked with
setting fuel economy standards, promoting the use of safety devices such as
seatbelts, child safety seats, and more. It investigates odometer fraud, and
establishes and enforces vehicle anti-theft regulations. The agency began
crash testing in 1972 with a Hybrid II dummy based on an early design by GM.
In 1969, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), supported by
insurance companies, was formed to focus on reducing highway losses. IIHS
developed its own research to reduce deaths, injuries, and property damage on
the nation's highways. In 1992 the group opened a state-of-the-art crash test
facility and began smashing new cars into offset barriers at 40 mph (5 mph
faster than existing NHTSA crash tests) and later whacking them on the side,
and from behind, with sleds to collect further crash test data. A second arm
of the Institute is the Highway Loss Data Institute that provides information
on injury, collision, and theft losses for every make and model.
NHTSA developed a five-star crash test rating for vehicles and IIHS developed
a four-point rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor for vehicles it
crash-tests. IIHS also provides a four-part bumper crash test that shows the
repair costs of low-speed (5 mph) crashes into poles and offset barriers that
simulate common parking lot mishaps.