IIHS Crash Test: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air vs. 2009 Chevrolet Malibu

Do you ever wonder how far car safety has come in the past 50 years? Check out this video from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that shows a crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. It probably will not come as a surprise which vehicle performs better during the test.

IIHS 50th anniversary crashtest: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu

IIHS Crash Test: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air VS. 2009 Chevrolet Malibu
IIHS crash test: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air VS. 2009 Chevrolet Malibu | IIHS Via YouTube

The first seat belt was patented back in the 1800s. When the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air came out, seatbelts were still a decade away from being a required safety feature. According to the IIHS, seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. The IIHS didn’t start performing moderate overlap frontal crash tests until 1995.

The IIHS and the Vehicle Research Center (VRC) test factors related to crash avoidance and crashworthiness of vehicles. Crash tests are a significant part of that research and have had a significant impact on car safety, both on and off road. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the company decided to demonstrate. Crash tests like the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu show just how far car safety has come.

Watch the IIHS demonstration video between two Chevrolet cars

The video above shows multiple views of a crash between the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. Upon impact, the Bel Air disintegrates at the front of the vehicle. The engine area collapses all the way up and into the main occupant compartment of the car. On the other side, it is clear the Chevrolet Malibu has more modern safety features. The car’s front crumples much less upon impact and doesn’t go into the main occupant compartment.

Institute president Adrian Lund said, “It was night and day, the difference in occupant protection. What this test shows is that automakers don’t build cars like they used to. They build them better.” While the cars were traveling at the same speed, the Bel Air was the obvious loser. Post-impact, the Malibu driver would have likely been OK.

How the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is keeping us safe

Every year, the IIHS performs crash and rollover tests on most mass-produced vehicles. These tests include front impact, side crash, rear crash, overall crash, and other common incidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also performs tests to determine car safety. These include overall frontal-crash, side-crash, and various rollover tests.

The IIHS also gives a Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ award every year since 2012. The award is given to cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans that offer exceptional safety measures. For 2021, those included vehicles like the 2021 Honda Insight, Mazda 3, and Subaru Crosstrek.

So the next time you see a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air or 2009 Chevrolet Malibu on the road, you can think of the IIHS. The tests get more stringent each year to keep drivers safe, both on and off the road.

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