Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Old vs New Car Safety

Are older cars safer than new?




You have got to be kidding. The introduction of seat belts alone has saved countless lives over the years. Not to mention airbags and a host of other safety improvements.

If they are old enough to stop running, yes. Otherwise, all those tax dollars spent on testing and mandating safety equipment has gone to waste.

I remember when seat belts were optional and all I needed to be safe was my dads arm keeping me from going anywhere. Cars are built too safe now. Back in the day when you got in a crash, you got something for your troubles. You know, teeth busted out, broken bones, being impaled on the steering column. Now you got airbags everywhere. When a kid is in a crash nowadays it’s like a carnival ride. They wanna do it again! Just sayin.

No, modern cars are MUCH safer, and here’s the proof - the death rate has dropped by about a factor of 10 since the 50s, and most all of that is the result of safer cars.

Why do you ask?

look up the volvo/renault crash video on youtube

See for yourself:

One of our members recently remarked that it is the driver not the car that makes the “safety”. Now it is my chance, why are you asking this?

Which do you think would fare better in a left headlight to to left head light crash, a big sturdy 1959 Chevy, or a little 2009 Chevy Malibu?

OK, make a mental note of your vote.

Now look at this?

Which is safer?

Edit: Oops, I see someone beat me to it. I should have read all the links above.

[i] Back in the day when you got in a crash, you got something for your troubles. You know, teeth busted out[/i] 

Yea, I can verify that.  I was involved in an accident about 40 years ago back before seat belts.  I lost two teeth ..  A seat belt would mean I would still have those teeth, but they were not standard back then.

I think that the OP has fallen victim to the people who say things like, “Those cars of yesteryear were much more rigid than the newer ones”, and “Look at the way the newer cars just ‘fold up’ when they crash into something”.

If these types of statements are the basis for the OP’s question, then please allow me to reassure him/her that the reason why newer cars are so much safer than the ones of yesteryear is precisely because of the way that they “fold up” when they crash into something. When a car collides with another car or a stationary object, a huge amount of inertial forces are created. The “rigid” car will not absorb those inertial forces to any great extent, and as a result the passengers absorbed most of those forces. The result was severe injury/disfigurement or death.

By contrast, when a modern car “collapses” in a controlled fashion, its structure absorbs most of those inertial forces, thus sparing the passengers from having to absorb those forces. Then, when you factor in the shoulder harness/seat belt that holds the passengers in their seats + the airbags that protect them from impact with dashboards, steering wheels, door panels, etc, the incidence of injury and death is greatly reduced.

Before we had seatbelts and strengthened door latches, passengers were frequently thrown from their vehicles by the impact and were subjected to a second impact with the roadway and/or with another vehicle. Despite the old refrain of “I’d rather be thrown clear”, being thrown from a vehicle only spares you from injury if you happen to be driving through a field of marshmallow fluff and sofa pillows. Being restrained inside a properly-designed modern vehicle will reduce the chances of serious injury in all but the most severe impacts.

Before we had sanely-designed steering wheels and dashboards, drivers’ chests were frequently impaled by steering wheel hubs that resembled cookie cutters. Passengers frequently suffered horrendous facial/cranial injuries from hitting the many projecting objects on the dashboard.

Before we had better-designed fuel tanks, the chance of a fuel leak and a fire was far higher than on a modern car.

Even things like braking systems are vastly different from yesteryear. If you compare the stopping distance of a modern car to that of a car from as recently as the 1970s, the reduction in stopping distances is dramatic.

Classic cars are things of beauty to admire and to cherish, but in terms of safety they are lightyears behind newer cars.

A 1950 Crosley wasn’t much more than a go cart but a 1981 Chevrolet Malibu offered a great deal of protection. But the driver is still the most significant safety device in a car.

Ford tried selling safety with its 1956 models. The car had a recessed steering hub (it was called a deep dish steering wheel). The rear view mirror was a “break-away” rear view mirror. There were safety door locks that were more resistant to springing open in a crash. Seat belts, a padded dashboard, and padded sunvisors were options. The safety didn’t help sell Fords. Customers apparently went across the street and bought Chevrolets that wouldn’t get into crashes.

Tom McCahill in his book “What You Should Know About Cars” that was published in the early 1960’s had a chapter titled “Safety Thoughts for the Manufacturers”. McCahill advocated safety harnesses, doors with locks designed like the locks on bank vaults, as well as some other items which I don’t remember. We now have safety harnesses and stronger door locks, along with collapsing steering columns and other features that McCahill didn’t think about.

Statistically, the same number of people are killed in cars today as in 1955, inspite of a 16 fold increase in total miles driven. That means that today’s cars, if unchanged from 1955, would have 16 times the fatalities. So, today’s cars are 16 times safer in terms of fatal accidents.

However, “Cars Cause Cancer” will argue that there are more lacerations and soft tissue injuries in total than 1n 1955. Quite true, since there are 16 times as many vehicle miles driver, but not 16 times the number of injuries in total by any means.

There are also more people living in the US, 154 million in 1955 vs 308 million legal plus 14 million illegal today.

In summary, in addition to the very graphic film clip of the 1959 Chevy, even the cheapest new car on the market in North Amercia and Europe is light years safer than those “solid” cars of the past.

I’ll take a laceration or a contusion over a crushed chest or skull any day. Man, when I think of how hard that steel dash was in my '64 Fairlane…

VDC started a good list of safety advances. There are literally countless more. Laminated safety glass (windshield), prestressed safety glass that crinkles into non-sharp tiny pieces (side windows), day/night mirrors, radial tires, engine/tranny assemblies that go under the passenger cabin absorbing energy, standards to keep the doors closed in a crash, standards to keep the seats mounted, headrests, the list goes on and on.

“They don’t build 'em like they used to.”
"Thank F#%& for that!"
Style-wise, I love the old cars, but safety wise, I’ll take modern design anyday

“But you can’t work on newer cars.”
"You don’t really need to."
We don’t need to adjust carbs, points, or things like that. Hell, most cars will be on their 2nd or 3rd owner before they really need their spark plugs changed in modern cars. Sure you need to contort parts of your body to get at some of them, but the shop mechanics have things to help them.
I think it’s just that some people don’t want to pay someone to do what they think they can do themselves.

You must be older than me, when I came along teeth were standard.

They picked a ringer. G. M. started with the infamous X frame cars in 1958. They had no side frame rails. NASCAR made the Chevys use 1957 chassis under their 58,59,and 60 models.