How does your car stand up to a collision? 8News goes inside crash testing facility

RUCKERSVILLE, Va. (WRIC)  —  Shopping for the perfect car comes down to more than just color and price. Safety should be a big consideration.

The organization that rates vehicle safety just happens to be about 90 miles outside of Richmond in Ruckersville, and 8News got an inside look at what they do inside the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.


“We crash cars to save lives,” Senior Test Coordinator Sean O’Malley said.

IIHS is the place where they smash perfectly good cars to see how they stand up to collisions.


“It’s important because you don’t want to be hurt or killed in a car crash,” adds O’Malley.

The research into just one vehicle takes days. Engineers equip the car, take precise measurements and prepare its occupant for impact.

“We crash cars to save lives.” — Senior Test Coordinator Sean O’Malley

Tyler Ayres is the Senior Engineering Technician charged with the task of painting the crash test dummy with different colors of clown face paint.

“What I’m doing now is painting so any contact it makes to the airbags, interior of the car, we know part of the dummy hit and then based on the video we can match it up with the time,” Ayres explained.


All the hours of work climax with a crash that lasts 1/10 of a second.

The aftermath says it all; engineers look at how the car crumples and where the crash dummy hits to help determine a safety rating for the vehicle. If a vehicle scores well, the automaker is quick to point it out to potential buyers.

“Many years ago it was said that safety didn’t sell and automakers didn’t talk about crashes in their advertising,” explains David Zuby, the Executive Vice President of IIHA. “But increasingly automakers are using the safety of their products as a way to sell their products.”


In addition to studying how cars stand up to crashes, IIHS is now looking at vehicles designed to avoid them.

Crash avoidance systems are becoming more common on cars every year.

David Aylor is the Manager of Active Safety Testing for IIHS. He took 8News through the paces of this advanced technology starting with an SUV that is designed to hit the brakes to avoid a front end collision.

“It uses two cameras mounted behind the windshield to look ahead at what the obstacle is and decide if the vehicle needs to brake,” Aylor said, adding that real-world data show that these crash avoidance systems are effective.


There has been a reduction in the number of collisions for vehicles equipped with front crash prevention technology or rear emergency braking. Even self-parking cars can help prevent annoying dings and scrapes.

Do you need this kind of technology on your next ride? Not necessarily, but if it can help protect you and your family, it’s worth considering.

IIHS suggests at the very least, you look at vehicle safety ratings before you decide what to buy.

“The reason we do these tests and the reason we make them public is to provide the impetus for the automakers to make their products safer,” Zuby said.

To view your vehicle’s safety rating, click here.

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