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Crashing A 1998 Toyota Into A 2017 Toyota Shows How Much Car Safety Has Evolved In Almost 20 Years

by Penn Collins

May 17, 2017

It’s a safe bet that most drivers take for granted how far the science of automotive safety has taken cars in our lifetime. Aside from the notable developments like airbags, and lesser-celebrated mechanisms like anti-lock breaking systems and crumple zones, advancements in safety continue to plug along, regardless of whether or not the consumers and the media are paying attention. 

Nowhere is that better illustrated than in this simple but profoundly telling video. The clip showcases a crash test between a 1998 Toyota and a 2015 Toyota, demonstrating just how big a difference all the little things make. Both cars boast many of the “big” features mentioned above (though, in 1998, American Corollas had airbags, while the Australian one in the video did not). Correspondingly, as the fallout demonstrates, the playing field is tilted heavily in favor of the more modern vehicle. 

In the video, two Corollas from different generations were pitted against each other in “celebration” of the U.N.’s Global Road Safety Week

After the impact, the two cars were graded on their resilience and safety according to current ANCAP (the Australian auto safety administration) standards. 

The 1998 Corolla garnered a miserable zero-star rating. The sensors on the dummies indicated substantial injuries to the passengers’ heads, legs, and chests. The scientific score tallied was a lowly 0.4 out of 16. 

The 2015 model fared astonishingly better, garnering five stars and almost 13 out of 16 points. Much of this can be attributed to the airbags, arguably the most crucial innovation since the seat belt, but efficiencies creating a bolstered structure also ensured that the occupants were much better off. Though it’s not made explicit in the video, the resilience of one structure could be attributed more to damage done to the colliding opponent, implying elements of a zero-sum game when it comes to the safety of a collision between one car with another.

In the video, ANCAP also points out the somewhat startling reality that often the more dangerous older cars are placed in the hands of the more dangerous drivers, both the extremely young and the elderly. Of course, ANCAP likely has ties to the automotive industry, whose business it is to sell upgraded new cars to drivers. But that doesn’t mean the agency was wrong when CEO James Goodwin said, "It is unfortunate we tend to see our most at-risk drivers—the young and inexperienced, as well as the elderly and more frail—in the most at-risk vehicles, and we hope this test promotes a conversation to encourage all motorists to consider the safety of their car."

The project, while eye-opening, isn’t the first of its kind, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed a similar examination by colliding a 2009 Chevy Malibu with a 50-year-old 1959 Chevy Bel Air. The results, as you might expect given the wider gap in technology, were even more dramatic. 

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Crashing A 1998 Toyota Into A 2017 Toyota Shows How Much Car Safety Has Evolved In Almost 20 Years