You’d expect a 1950-era automobile to do a poor job protecting its occupants in a crash, but what about a 20-year-old car? Surely by the mid-90s automakers had figured out how to keep us safe? To test this premise, Euro New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), a car-safety ratings organization, took an old Rover 100 and a recent Honda Jazz, and crashed them. The results aren’t pretty. Spoiler: You’ll probably never want to ride in an old car again.
That’s the short version of the carnage. There’s a full-length version, which comes over like a corporate video, but gives a fascinating peek into how these crash tests are done.
Euro NCAP was started in the U.K. 20 years ago this week. The organization is backed by the EU, and many European governments, and awards cars star ratings for safety. This video, made to mark the anniversary, shows just how far car safety has come since 1997. The new Jazz protects its occupants, whereas the old Rover 100 crumples, crushing the people inside.
“Safety technologies that were nonexistent or optional at most–such as driver and passenger airbags, side protection airbags, belt reminders, and electronic stability control–are now standard on all cars sold in Europe,” says the NCAP press release.
Back when NCAP formed, there was no formal, standardized crash test. Manufacturers had to conduct a few basic safety tests, and the results weren’t public. “Euro NCAP’s program was the first time that realistic, like-for-like tests had been conducted in Europe by independent experts,” says the organization, “and the results sparked outrage from consumer groups, members of the public, and the media.”
In NCAP’s initial tests, the then-top-selling Rover 100 got just one star out of four (today the rating uses five stars). No other “super-mini” sized car scored more than three. When pedestrian safety was factored in, no car scored higher than two stars. Manufacturers attacked the tests, “claiming they were so severe that it was ‘impossible’ for a car to achieve four stars.” Just five months later, a Volvo scored full marks, proving them all wrong.
Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without standardized, publicly disclosed safety tests for cars, but then it’s also difficult to believe we ever drove without seat belts. Still, even with all this testing and safety technology, cars kill more than 30,000 people a year, just in the United States. Maybe in the future, we’ll feel the same way about people being allowed to drive cars on the open road at all.